Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects millions of people around the world everyday. Traumatic events can plague victims for days, weeks, and even years after an event. PTSD is a relentless reminder that turns every day into a potential ordeal, with flashbacks and triggers potentially hidden around every corner. As described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder than can occur after a person has experienced or witnessed traumatic events. It causes extreme fear, helplessness or horror leading to depression, addiction, or even suicide in extreme cases. PTSD symptoms often become apparent within three months of a traumatic event, but it can also surface years later. This sometimes makes it difficult to determine the cause, as prolonged exposure to events cannot be quantified to a single event. PTSD has become a global recognized health issue and with the increasing prevalence is gaining awareness.
The Province of Ontario recently enacted Bill 9: An act to proclaim an awareness day for posttraumatic stress disorder, making June 27 in each year PTSD awareness day. This is an important and monumental moment for the province. Having this day designated can assist in raising further awareness of this disorder while aiding people in the province move beyond “stigma, isolation, and helplessness towards resources, understanding and eventually, the road to recovery” (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, 2018). Public awareness also impacts funding for programs, services and research, while inciting public education thus increasing understanding of PTSD.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (WSIA) was amended in 2016 with Bill-163 (Supporting Ontario’s First Responder’s Act, 2016) to presume that PTSD is a workplace injury among first responders if it arises out of and in the course of the worker’s employment. Bill-163 recognized that first responders and other workers can develop PTSD during their employment and entitles them to benefits under the WSIA. The bill covered fire fighters, fire investigation, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical attendants and workers in correctional institutions. While supportive of first responders, Bill-163 left nurses and other healthcare front-line workers behind in the fight against PTSD in the workplace. This changed in May of 2018.
On May 8, 2018, Bill 31, the Plan for Care and Opportunity Act (Budget Measures), 2018, was passed by the provincial government, which amended section 14 of the WSIA, to expand the presumption of work-relatedness for PTSD to include six new categories of workers: nurses who directly provide patient care, provincial bailiffs, probation officers and their supervisors, special constables, and members of police forces who perform work in a forensic identification or a Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System Unit. Prior to this amendment, nurses were excluded from the presumption PTSD arose out of and in the course of employment. The amendment sought to address the evidence that these workers, given their routine exposure to traumatic stressors, are “twice as likely as members of the general public to suffer PTSD” (Ontario Ministry of Labour, 2018). Bill 31, also amended the WSIA to add employment, diagnostic criteria and transitional provisions for the PTSD presumption for the new categories of workers. Under this amendment these workers may now rely on a presumption diagnosis of PTSD “out of and in the course of employment.” The presumption removes the need to prove a causal link between the PTSD injury and a workplace event, enabling these workers to access WSIA benefits more quickly.
On September 1, 2018 the Workers Safety and Insurance Board implemented new policy (Document # 15-03-13) that coincides with legislative changes. Under section 14 of the WSIA, when certain first responders and designated workers submit a claim for post traumatic stress disorder with a confirmed diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist it will be presumed that their PTSD is work-related unless the contrary is shown.
These legislative changes along with the proclamation of June 27 as PTSD Awareness Day in Ontario is a step in a positive direction for first-responders and first-line healthcare workers afflicted with PTSD. By raising awareness about this lifelong struggle and the people it affects has now provided access to WSIA benefits more quickly and can help make the lives of those suffering just a little easier.