After STARS crews return from a mission, they restock their supplies, clean the helicopter’s interior, and place their helmets back on the rack, ready for the next call.

But restoring their mental state in the aftermath of a difficult mission isn’t always so straightforward. For these crew members, STARS’ critical incident stress management program, or CISM, plays a key role in helping them manage the stresses of the incidents they respond to.

Though our crews have years of training and experience to deal with emergencies, dealing with the emotions and memories that accompany their missions is never easy. According to researchers, first responders experience post-traumatic stress disorder at twice the rate of the general population. They also estimate that 22 per cent of paramedics will grapple with PTSD during their careers.

CISMWhen researchers from the University of Regina and the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region partnered with STARS to investigate how our crews cope, they expected to see rates even higher than this, because STARS missions often involve the most critically injured patients an emergency crew may face.

Instead, they discovered the rates were lower than expected. “We found their incidence rates of PTSD, depression and anxiety were similar to the general population,” said Michelle McCarron, one of the study’s five investigators. “It was quite a bit lower than has been found in other research with first responders.”

Dean Ferguson, an Emergency Link Centre team member, played a key role in establishing STARS’ CISM program and attributes the integration of CISM in the dispatch process as one of the reasons for its success.

“There have been times when a crew returned from a difficult mission, and a CISM support team was there waiting with a fresh crew to take over the rest of their shift so they could debrief,” said Ferguson. “It’s the security to know the support is there, whenever you need it.”