Rae-Lynne Dicks began her career as a 911 operator in 1995. She left the job after being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She has conducted the first research in Canada on the prevalence of PTSD symptoms among Canadian 911 operators and will share her insights at Kwantlen’s Surrey campus on Feb. 23.

Rae-Lynne Dicks began her career as a 911 operator in 1995. She left the job after being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She has conducted the first research in Canada on the prevalence of PTSD symptoms among Canadian 911 operators and will share her insights at Kwantlen’s Surrey campus on Feb. 23.

What happens when the helpers need help?

Kwantlen's Surrey campus hosts forum about first responders suffering from PTSD Feb. 23-24.

“911. Do you require police, ambulance or fire?”

Former 911 operator Rae-Lynne Dicks said these words thousands of times during her 10-year career.

She listened to the screams of domestic abuse victims as they cried for her help and the quietly desperate words of sexual assault victims who had been brutally beaten.

She listened to the last words of fire victims waiting to be rescued and she convinced homicide suspects to stay on the phone with her until police arrived to arrest them.

She talked a suicidal man, barricaded in his home, out to safety.

Now living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Dicks will share her experiences in healing and post-traumatic growth at an upcoming symposium on mental health and first responders at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) later this month.

“Too often, first responders, and particularly 911 operators, suffer in silence,” said Dicks, who is also a KPU alumna.

“The point of this conference is to provide a venue at which students, first responders, professionals, faculty, and members of the community can come together to share our knowledge, resources and support one another.”

Connections in First Responder Mental Health is jointly organized by the criminology department at KPU and Badge of Life Canada, a non-profit volunteer organization committed to supporting police and corrections personnel dealing with the psychological injuries suffered in the line of duty.

Badge of Life also has a mandate to advance the public’s understanding of operational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress and suicide prevention.

“We’re trying to spread awareness of the realities of PTSD; that support and treatment are available, and PTSD does not have to end in suicide,” said Alana Abramson, a criminology instructor at KPU helping to organize the conference.

PTSD increases risks of aggression, self-harm, suicide, depression, anxiety, relationship breakdowns, substance misuse and other health issues.

First responders – 911 operators, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, social workers, emergency room personnel, correctional officers and victims services workers – often suffer in silence with PTSD.

Dicks graduated from the public safety communications program at KPU in 1993 and worked as a 911 operator for 10 years before developing the condition.

Her work took her into the depths of other peoples’ despair until she could no longer hear their stories or function as a human being.

Unable to do the job she loved, Dicks sank into a major depression and was suicidal for two years. She credits her cat, Tomi, for her survival. Tomi refused to leave her alone and set her on the path to healing.

Dicks became a legal secretary before returning to KPU for an associated arts degree in criminology in 2011, and a bachelor of arts degree in 2012.

In addition to being a three-time alumna – four if you count earning her Dogwood diploma through the adult basic education program in 1991 – Dicks remains connected to KPU by returning every semester to share her story with criminology students.

In addition to her personal insight, Dicks, who went on to get a masters degree in criminal justice from the University of the Fraser Valley, will share the results of her 2014 master’s research on PTSD among 911 operators across Canada.

“It is the helplessness of being on the phone, help is on the way, and there is nothing more you can do but listen to a person take their last breath full of smoke, hear them scream as they fall and then hit the water, hear the gunshot from the weapon pointed at their own head, hear the daddy beating mommy as you try to calm the child hiding in the closet and mommy stops screaming because she is unconscious,” wrote Dicks in her work – the first research in Canada on the prevalence of PTSD among Canadian 911 operators.

She surveyed 146 operators, 80.14 per cent of whom reported at least one PTSD symptom. Of those, 43 per cent said they used alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms.

“I am absolutely passionate about breaking the silence surrounding mental health and stress-related injuries for first responders and I firmly believe that those of us with lived experience have much to contribute to the conversations and the change of the status quo,” said Dicks.

Connections in First Responder Mental Health is set for Feb. 23-24 at KPU’s Surrey campus, 12666 72 Ave.

The trauma-related experiences and healing journeys of first responders will be shared, along with current research and treatment methods that promote health following trauma.

Tickets are available for one or both days of the conference, ranging from $5 for students for one day, to $150 for professionals for both days. Financial assistance may be available for those who require support to attend.

For more information, including a full schedule of events and to buy tickets and register, visit http://bit.ly/2juWJcQ




Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon was sworn in as minister of minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation by B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and Premier John Horgan during a virtual ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (Province of BC/YouTube screen shot)
Delta North MLA named minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation

Ravi Kahlon was sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin during a virtual ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 26

The City of Delta is receiving $77,250 from Natural Resources Canada’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program for the installation of 20 electric vehicle charging stations at public facilities in the community, like this one outside the new North Delta Centre for the Arts. (James Smith photo)
Delta to receive $77K for more electric vehicle charging stations

The federal funding will help expand Delta’s network of public charging stations by 20 in 2021

Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Brenda Locke trying to breathe life into Surrey’s defunct Public Safety Committee

Surrey councillor’s motion will be up for debate at a future council meeting

Steve ‘Elvis’ Elliott performs for residents of Amica White Rock. Exercise-to-music programs that led to a threat of city fines due to a noise complaint are to resume next week. (Contributed file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Amica White Rock

Peace Portal Seniors Village outbreak declared over

Wickson Pier in Crescent Beach is closed to the public, as work to replace and repair piles continues. (Susan Richards de Wit photo)
PHOTOS: Repairs to Crescent Beach pier complete

$180,000 Wickson Pier project included pile replacement, says City of Surrey parks manager

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

The online poster for Joel Goddard, who left his Willoughby home Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated by his family and friends who received word that he’s been found.
Langley man missing since Nov. 10 found alive and safe in Abbotsford

Family of the Willoughby area man had been searching for days. Police find him at Abbotsford Airport

Most Read