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'We see a lot of gruesome stuff': 5K run helps first responder mental health initiatives

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It’s a tough job, and not everyone can do it.

“As a paramedic, we can't control what we see and sometimes it affects us more than we would like to admit,” said Chris Williams, a paramedic with London-Middlesex EMS.

So the Marathons for Mental Health initiative was created. It was designed to put more exposure on medics, and tell them it is okay to feel uncomfortable.

“After a long day of work, or after calls, you see really gruesome stuff. We liked the idea of letting medics know that it's okay to ask for help and then getting the help when it's needed,” Williams said.

Running has proven to improve mental health, reduce symptoms of depression, and increase stress resilience.

As part of the goal to look after the wellbeing of first responders, the first annual Marathons for Mental Health 5k run was created.

It sold out in three days.

Runners Avery Walton (left) and Meghan Grevers were among the 50 participants in the first annual Marathons for Mental Health 5k run April 13, 2024, at Gibbons Park in London, Ont. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

“We've raised over $4,000 to donate to first responder mental health initiatives across the country,” said Matt Pusateri, a paramedic with London-Middlesex Ems and the run organizer. “All of our funds go towards I’VEGOTYOURBACK911, who was graciously able to show up today and support us.”

The I’VEGOTYOURBACK911 campaign, founded in 2014, is now in its 10th year. They draw awareness to the rise of mental health issues within the first responder community.

“The money raised today will go into our service dog program,” said Jill Foster, the campaign co-founder. “We've been running a service dog program for the last three years, where we fully fund a service dog for a first responder who's experiencing PTSD. We pay for the cost of the dog and then two years of training through the Phoenix Canine Initiative.”

Foster said a service dog costs between $20,000 to $22,000 and the money raised from the run will go directly into that program.

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