Psychological endurance: A SAR Tech’s mission to support his team

October 7, 2019 — Defence Stories

Canadian Search and Rescue (SAR) Technicians’ duties can be very challenging and when the stakes are high, emotional stress and personal well-being can be an afterthought. This was the case for one SAR Tech, whose personal experience with mental illness opened his eyes to the need of, in his words, “a more robust and well-rounded health program” for the operational SAR Techs at 442 Squadron in Comox.

Sergeant Jeff Ferguson has been a SAR Tech for the last 13 years, following an Occupational Transfer from Medical Technician. After completing the Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) training, which is designed to create mental health awareness and teach members to manage in high-stress environments, he recognized the importance of the program and believed it had incredible potential. Sgt. Ferguson was appreciative of the effort put into the R2MR program to start the conversation about mental health, but he said they “needed more than one day to properly gauge the health of the members serving on the operational lines.”

Sgt. Ferguson drafted the first proposal of the 442 SAR Tech Health and Wellness Initiative, which consisted of team discussion sessions. He attributes the positive impact of the initiative to the team of 27 SAR Techs, all of whom he individually met with in order to gain their perspective. This was to ensure that the initiative, as well as any efforts related to it, were uniquely tailored to the needs of the SAR Techs at 442 Sqd. The program’s purpose was to identify the least-invasive solutions to meet these needs while mitigating mental health-related issues, including burnouts, operational stress injuries, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “They created the initiative, I just put it on paper. We had to get our own house in order first before we started saving the world,” Sgt. Ferguson says.

The initiative includes four sessions a year. During this time, knowledge and experience gained during recent missions are shared within the section in a group discussion, members discuss workplace issues in the presence of a facilitator, and each SAR Tech is required to meet individually with a mental health professional. The latter provides an opportunity to gauge members’ health in a comfortable and neutral environment.

Sgt. Ferguson, now a SAR Tech instructor, believes his purpose is to help relieve SAR Techs of burdens while they engaged in operations and ensure that “we do not exceed our psychological endurance.” He hopes the 442 SAR Tech Health and Wellness Initiative will continue to improve their work environment for years to come. On what it takes to be a leader of change, Sgt. Ferguson says it “just comes down to being a decent person and the willingness to listen.”

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