Thunder Bay – LIVING – As an Emergency Management Field Officer, Sharon Bak knows what it takes to make order out of chaos. PSPs in the emergency management sector are often forgotten until an emergency occurs. Then they rush into action facing stress and trauma both similar to, and different from, their counterparts in other sectors.
The unique job of emergency managers is hard to understand for those outside the field, which is why having a peer support team is so important. Creating a peer support team for Emergency Management Ontario is just one of the reasons Chris Pittens nominated Sharon as a Champion of Mental Health.
When we opened our call for nominations for the inaugural CIPSRT Champions of Mental Health award, we could not have imagined the overwhelming response we would receive. With over 200 nominations submitted, the CIPSRT operations team had the privilege of reading applications detailing stories from passionate and committed Public Safety Personnel (PSP) from across the country who truly “walked the talk” when it came to supporting their colleagues’ mental health and well-being.
To be considered a Champion, a nominee must have done one (or more) of the following:
- Raised awareness about PSP mental health (For example, sharing their personal mental health story widely with colleagues or helping to develop programming).
- Helped work on mental health stigma reduction within their organizations or in the PSP community.
- Worked as a peer supporter
- Worked as a member of a reintegration team
- Helped to develop practices for a psychologically safe workplace (For example, promoted self-care widely in the organization, encouraged an open environment to talk about mental health issues.)
With so many nominations, the operations team also evaluated the nominees on the following basis:
- Impact the mental health on their organization and community
- Number of people positively affected by their mental health efforts
- Willingness to speak about their mental health journey
- Creation of innovative mental health resources and initiatives
- Creation of new training resources
- Commitment to decreasing mental health stigma
PSP from across different sectors, provinces, and communities that had significantly impacted their organization were nominated. It was difficult to narrow it down to the 20 winners celebrated here with so many deserving nominees.
We congratulate each of our inaugural Champions for improving mental health in their organizations. Each of the winners has inspired everyone at CIPSRT. We believe their stories will also inspire future mental health champions. Please read on to learn more about the great work they are doing in their organizations.
Emergency Management Field Officer – Emergency Management Ontario
As a person living with mental illness, Sharon has been vocal about mental health and wellness in her organization. This willingness to be vocal, combined with a lifelong drive to help people, has made Sharon the perfect advocate for improved mental health and wellness. In Sharon’s words, “Silence Kills. If I can use my voice and tell my story, it shows it is okay to be open.”
Sharon believes that the idea of stoic heroes is still very prevalent in the PSP community. Still, she is working hard to show that mental illness doesn’t define who you are, and it doesn’t set limitations on what you can do in your life. In fact, Sharon thinks she is better at her job because of her own struggles. They allow her to have empathy for those she is supporting through an emergency.
Sharon brings that same dedication to her workplace. As her nominator noted, Sharon established a Mental Health Working Group (MHWG) in her organization to help provide supports beyond those offered through their EFAP program. Sharon knows it is all a part of building mental health and wellness into her workplace culture, a move she thinks is essential for all organizations. For organizations to support mental health, Sharon believes there needs to be more money for support and education, and more buy-in from leadership to change the culture. When it comes to tools, Sharon knows it can’t be a one size fits all solution. This is why education on mental health and wellness, both personally and professionally, is so important.
Though Sharon doesn’t see herself as a hero, her nominator Chris does,
“A hero is someone who does not necessarily wear a cape but works tirelessly every day to share their stories, helps those who are struggling, takes risks, shows vulnerability by telling their truth, and stands up for others who have not yet found their voice. We can think of no better “hero” and Champion of Mental Health than Sharon Bak.”