Helping the Helpers - Not all Injuries are Visible

The 10th Annual Awareness & Education Day for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

October 26, 2024 • Antigonish, Nova Scotia

7th Annual
‘Helping the Helpers’

Awareness and Education Day For Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

We are thrilled to announce that we have rescheduled the 7th Annual Helping the Helpers Conference!

Please save the date – Saturday, September 11th, 2021 at St. Francis Xavier University Schwartz Auditorium, Schwartz Building and Barrick Auditorium, Mulroney Building between 7:30AM to 5PM.

It was with disappointment that we made the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the 7th Annual Conference, originally scheduled for 2020. We recognize that 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, and in particular for First Responders, Allied Frontline Workers and your families. We feel it is more important than ever that we reconnect to provide support and share experiences.

We will be watching all of the public health and safety guidelines as the next few months unfold.

In keeping with these guidelines, we are limiting capacity to 100 in each of the auditoriums we are using.  Half of the program will be presented live in each auditorium and projected via livestream to the other auditorium. 

We are optimistic that the conference will be able to go ahead in September, and we will post updates and information on our Facebook page and website including program and registration information in the coming weeks.

We look forward to seeing you again.


‘Coping and Dealing with PTSD for Frontline Professionals and Families’

This is a great information sharing day from front line professionals sharing their lived experience of living with PTSD and front line professionals providing clinical expertise.


The 7th Annual “Helping the Helpers” Awareness and Education Day for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will be held on Saturday, September 11th, 2021.

Registration fee is $25/person.

Please note, the registration fee includes light refreshments at breaks. Lunch will not be provided, or available on campus due to health and safety restrictions. We will allow time for you to leave campus for lunch.

Please note, due to reduced capacity in keeping with Nova Scotia COVID related restrictions, we are asking that you limit the registration from your organization to a maximum of six people. Each person must register individually.

You may register by clicking here, or by calling our event registrar at 902-422-1886 or 877-731-1333. You may email us at

Once the registrations are complete, if you wish to make a single payment by cheque for the people participating from your organization, send along one cheque payment, with the names of registered participants from your organization (max six.)

If you have questions or require assistance, you may email us at

Speaker Line Up 2021 Conference


Starr Cunningham, CEO Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

Janice Landry, Writer, Journalist and Author

Welcome Remarks, Masters of Ceremonies
Karen McMahon Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education Representative
Shelley Rowan, VP, People and Strategy Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia Representative ~ New First Responder Resource
Sgt. Joe Taplin RCMP Member
Jason MacLean, President, NSGEU & Correctional Officer (Rtd)
Crystal Morais RN Registered Nurse
Mary Beth Flemming OT & Sandra Duke RN-NP Returning to Function Following a Psychological Workplace Injury: Occupational Therapy as Integrated Therapy
Madison MacDonald Empowering video Message from Daughter of First Responder
Dr. Heidi Cramm & Dr. Deborah Norris Research on Spouses of Military Personnel & First Responders

Paul McKenzie,
Firefighters and Family Assistance Program Coordinator
Halifax Regional Police Officer, Retired


Fire Fighter

Jason Israel, Canadian Armed Forces, Retired Military Member
John Garth MacDonald ACP & Michelle MacDonald Spouses Panel Discussion ~ Moderated by Starr Cunningham
Cst. Brad Cameron & Sara Jane Cameron Spouses Panel Discussion
Helping the Helpers Committee Members Closing Remarks

Support Services, ie psychologists/therapy dogs, will be available on site.

For First Responders, allied Frontline Professionals and their spouses. Program is recommended for family members over 18 and is subject to change.

Guest Speakers & Resources

at the 7th Annual Helping the Helpers Awareness and Education Day

Starr Cunningham

Starr Cunningham

Starr Cunningham is the President & CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

She is a National Recipient of a ‘Difference Makers – 150 Canadians Leading for Mental Health Award’. Starr received the 2019 ‘Women of Excellence Philanthropy Award’, Northwood Foundation’s ‘Live More Advocacy Award’ and was named a Halifax Business Awards ‘Business Person of the Year Silver Recipient’.

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Starr currently serves on the Atlantic Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund Advisory Committee and the NS/PEI St. John Ambulance Board of Directors. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum – Atlantic Chapter, and was invested into the Order of St. John at Government House.

A best-selling children’s author and multiple journalism award winner, Starr is a strong voice and recognized personality across Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region.

Janice Landry

Janice Landry

We wish to thank Janice Landry for acting as one of our two Masters of Ceremonies this year. Janice is an award-winning writer, journalist and author. Her written work and public speaking primarily focus on first responder mental health and wellness. Landry advocates for Canada’s frontline workers, including medical personnel, emergency communications, members of the military and their families.

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Landry started writing books to honour her late father, Capt. Baz Landry, M.B., of the former Halifax Fire Department. Capt. Landry was the first Halifax firefighter in more than 250+ years to receive Canada’s Medal of Bravery (1980). Landry’s work is now also lovingly dedicated to her late mother, Theresa.

A former television reporter and anchor (CTV Atlantic), and long-time university instructor (MSVU), the veteran journalist has been a freelance content creator since 2001. Landry wears a variety of hats through her company, Groundhog Productions. She does strategic writing and communications, video production, event hosting, social media management, blog, magazine, newsletter and script writing.

Karen McMahon

Karen McMahon

Karen McMahon is the Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Accountability division in the Safety Branch. She and her team support both Occupational Health and Safety and Technical Safety on policy, strategic, planning, systems and information matters. 

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Her team worked on the development of the Post Traumatic stress disorder legislation and the new bill to expand access to workplace injury insurance and cancer presumption to volunteer firefighters in the Worker’s Compensation Act. Karen has worked in the Safety Branch since 2014. Prior to that, she worked in the non profit sector as Director of Policy and in the Private Sector for a large Petroleum Company. Karen has a Masters in Business Administration from Henley Management College in the UK and a Bachelor of Business Administration from University of New Brunswick. Her family lives in Halifax and she keeps busy with her two young sons and teaching fitness classes.

Shelly Rowan, Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia Representative

Shelley Rowan

VP, People and Strategy, Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia Representative

Since joining WCB Nova Scotia in 1998, Shelley Rowan has held a number of executive roles, providing guidance and oversight to help the people, strategies, and services of the organization flourish. She is currently Vice President, People and Strategy, where her responsibilities include leading a wide range of the WCB’s corporate functions, including our new innovation framework.

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Most recently, as VP, Prevention and Service Delivery, the teams in Shelley’s portfolio have supported lasting change in safety cultures in fishing, in health care, and in other industries. Having redefined the way we work with key partners in prevention under the Workpalce Safety Strategy, Shelley has more recently focused a great deal of effort in improving mental health outcomes, and supporting Nova Scotia’s first responder community.

Previous to the WCB, Shelley’s career spanned a number of roles in the federal and provincial public sector, from federal crown corporations to regional health authorities.

She is a past chair Board member with Threads of Life, a national organization dedicated to providing support for families impacted by workplace tragedy, and has served on the Council of Governors of the Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety, and more locally, on the Board of Governors for Mount Saint Vincent University.

Joe Taplin

We are honoured and grateful to have Joe as one of our guest presenters. Sgt. Joe Taplin joined the RCMP April 30, 1990 and has 30 years’ experience. Sgt. Taplin was diagnosed five years ago with severe cumulative PTSD combined with depression and an anxiety disorder but is believed he has suffered with this since his first posting in northern Alberta. 

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He also has been posted to an isolated Alberta posting and Nova Scotia within his career. He is currently the NCO i/c of Cole Harbour office and Community Policing for Halifax District.

The one thing training forgot to tell us is that some of us are going to Suffer in Silence with nightmares, images planted in my head that haunt us daily. Kids that I tried to help – the senseless sexual assaults against them, their innocence taken away and not being able to do a damn thing to help them, except comfort them with words while thinking about my own three young daughters and worrying about them as well. The trauma of a family of 7 dying in a single car accident and knowing them, the murders, the sudden deaths, the assault causing bodily harms, the motor vehicle accidents, the suicides, the fatal electrocutions, fire victims, plane crashes and I wonder why I started to self-destruct years ago.

Yes, that was Joe Taplin, suffering in silence for more than 25 years until I had a break down and finally had to seek help on my own. For over 25 years I have fooled myself, my family my co-workers by suffering in silence. It took me 25 years to realize that I had a work place injury called PTSD…wow me, the face of the RCMP (media spokesperson) for 7 years. I have been presented with National awards, IODE policemen of the Year, Two Jubilee medals for my community work, a great community person who volunteered a lot in my past, a good police office but suffering inside for years while working with the RCMP with no real help for us or me.

Sgt. Taplin has taken his Suffer in Silence ideal and has been featured on CBC NS, the Rick Howe Show and CTV Your Morning with Ben Mulroney. “I truly believe we have to get rid of the stigma of mental health and not suffer in silence but it takes a culture shift to make this happen”. “We have lost to many brother and sisters to suicide and it has to stop, we need to step up and talk and reach out for help”.

Jason MacLean, President, NSGEU & Correctional Officer (Rtd)

Jason MacLean, President, NSGEU & Correctional Officer (Rtd)

Jason MacLean was re-elected to a second term as President of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, Nova Scotia’s largest public sector union, in May 2019.

Born and raised in the community of Whitney Pier, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Jason grew up understanding the importance of diversity, fairness and equality. . His mother is a community leader, a former school board representative and a retired Early Childhood Educator, and his father is a retired firefighter.

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In 1995, Jason began his career in the public service as a Corrections Officer first at the Cumberland Correctional Facility in Amherst and then at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in Sydney. Jason became a leader in his Union Local and soon was elected to the NSGEU Board of Directors, Provincial Executive, and became President in 2016.

As President, he strives to be a leader focused on solving problems and making the province a fairer, more equitable place to work and live.
Jason is also a leader within the larger labour community. He serves as the 1st Vice President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and the Executive Vice President of the National Executive Board for the National Union of Public & General Employees (NUPGE).

Jason was selected to attend the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference Program in 2015 and is a graduate of the distinguished Harvard Trade Union program.

When he is not advocating on behalf of NSGEU members and the working people of Nova Scotia, Jason enjoys spending quality time with his family: he is married and the father of three children: Tasia, Tyler, and Jalen.

Crystal Burns-Morais

We are honoured to have Crystal as one of our guest presenters at this years event. Crystal has been a nurse for the past 20 years, spending 15 of those years in labour and delivery as well as pediatrics at St Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, NS. During this time she was faced with many traumatic events involving infants, children, teenagers, women and their families.

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Being the dedicated, empathetic, and caring professional that she is, Crystal pushed all of these events to the side feeling that she had dealt with them just fine and always tried to focus on the many happy and special moments that she was part of during her career. In 2013 she started noticing some slight changes in her personality, her mood, and how she handled different situations. This continued over the past number of years, then her sleeping patterns started being interrupted, her memory was declining, her concentration and decision making started being affected. While noticing these changes herself, she kept them from everyone else around her including her family in fear of being judged. She suffered in silence for about 5 years before she was finally able to accept that there was something medically wrong with her.

It wasn’t until a major event in 2018 that Crystal’s life took a major turn and her world came crippling down in front of her. In September of 2018 she was diagnosed with PTSD, major depression and anxiety. After losing hope on life, her family, her friends, and her career, Crystal confided in a coworker and with her guidance she sought out Professional help. With professional help, guidance and resources, Crystal continues to be on her recovery journey all while spreading the message that there truly is hope, take it one day at a time and to never give up. You are not alone!

She is an extraordinary mental health advocate for others especially for frontline workers and nurses in particular. She is always willing to share her story and to lend an ear to anyone in need while she maintains her own healthy boundaries.

Crystal is also one of the facilitators for the Antigonish Wings of Change Peer Support Group. She is very honoured to be part of Helping the Helpers and hopes that she is able to spread the message of hope and strength to others that may be suffering especially those suffering in silence.

Marybeth Fleming

We are honoured to have Marybeth as one of our guest presenters at this years event. Marybeth comes to us with over 25 years of direct clinical experience and leadership.

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Marybeth has worked in the public and private sector and more recently Marybeth has worked as a case manager with the WCB, on the Special Adjudication team focusing on those workers with a traumatic injury and / or a concussion. She is now the owner and operator of OT Health Inc.

Marybeth’s career has taken her to many workplaces, clinics, community settings where the goal of treatment was “Returning to Life’s Activities”. While supporting her clients to return to Life ‘s activities like hobbies, church, getting groceries and work for example, Marybeth has assisted first responders to navigate their return to Life’s activities successfully. Her experience with first responders has enabled her to participate as an integral team member along side psychologists and other health professionals supporting in vivo exposure experiences. Successfully supporting clients during their reintegration into productive and functional living, including safe and sustainable work following trauma, was and continues to be the most exceptionally rewarding time of her career. Not only has Marybeth experienced the work of trauma as a professional, she also has first had experienced with immediate family members, friends and colleagues.

Sandra Duke

We are honoured to have Sandra as one of our guest presenters at this years event. Sandra will be sharing her lived experience along with co-facilitating with Mary Beth Fleming OT about how Occupational Therapy can support someone with a psychological injury as an integrated therapy in supporting returning to function.

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Sandra Duke RN-NP

I have had a 40-year career in Nursing, 15 years as an RN working in the high acuity areas of ER and Critical Care. I became a Specialty Nurse Practitioner in 1997 until my retirement in 2018 working as an NP in Cardiology, Internal Medicine (End Stage Congestive Heart Failure Management in the Community) and Geriatric Medicine.

In August 2015, while caring for one of my community-based CHF patients, a horrible adverse event occurred, which I knew I could not, for the first time in my career, self manage. Given that it was a workplace incident, I was referred to Workers Compensation Board and assigned a knowledgeable caseworker, Tracey. Among other health care professionals, she referred me to Marybeth Fleming. I remember thinking “why are they sending me to an OT? My injury is not physical”. Although I did not realize it at the time, this referral was one of my saving graces.

Diagnosed with PTSD, I was able to access the proper care providers who assisted me in getting back to work and back to a functional life. I was determined to get back to work and can say that there surely were bumps along the way. I was able to retire as scheduled in 2018.

The guidance, counselling and direction afforded to me would not have been possible through trying to manage this trauma on my own as I had done so many times before. I, like many of my health care provider colleagues, expected to be able to manage seemingly benign invisible incidents that are deemed “occupational hazards”. Hopefully, my experience which I have shared with my colleagues, will make everyone more mindful to take care of oneself.

Madison MacDonald

We are blessed to have Maddie, the daughter of John Garth and Michelle MacDonald as one of our
presenters again this year. Maddie was a young child when her Father experienced a psychological
workplace injury, PTSD. 

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She wanted to capture some of her lived experience as a child of a First Responder through a video she developed along with Jon Brown. This short video is a reflection of her journey of how PTSD impacted her as an individual within our family. Maddie has been a long-time mental health advocate and speaks openly and effortlessly with anyone who wants to discuss mental health issues. She speaks authentically with the focus on breaking down stigma and ‘normalizing the conversation’.

Dr. Heidi Cramm

Dr. Heidi Cramm

We are delighted to have Dr. Heidi Cramm and Dr. Deborah Norris with us this year to present their research on Spouses of Military and First Responders.

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Trained as an occupational therapist, Dr Cramm has worked in clinical and research roles that focus on families and mental health for 20 years. As an associate professor at Queen’s University, her research started with exploring mental health, resilience/y, trauma, and recovery in families of military personnel and veterans. Married to a fire fighter and seeing how much could be learned from the military, veteran, and family research, she saw the potential to extend that work into the world of public safety personnel. Dr Cramm and her team were recently funded by CIHR for a 3-year team grant that will provide critical knowledge to support policy and program development for the families of public safety personnel.

Dr. Deborah Norris

Dr. Deborah Norris

We are delighted to have Dr. Heidi Cramm and Dr. Deborah Norris with us this year to present their research on Spouses of Military and First Responders.

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Dr. Deborah Norris, is a Professor in the Department of Family Studies and Gerontology at Mount Saint Vincent University. Informed through her background in family studies, critical theory, and qualitative methodology, she teaches courses in family relations, family violence, and research methods. Dr. Norris’ military family research program includes studies focusing on the everyday lives of female military partners. This includes the cycle of deployment, secondary trauma in military families, work-life balance in families where mothers are serving members in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the impact of operational stress injuries on the mental health and well-being of families of veterans, resilience and post-traumatic growth in military families, and the military to civilian transition.

K. Paul MacKenzie, CCAC,CTR,CTSS,CFE

K. Paul McKenzie, CCAC, CTR, CTSS, CFE

We are delighted to have Paul McKenzie with us for the Helping the Helpers event this year. Paul is a former Halifax Regional Police Officer (Rtd), having served in Patrol Division, Mounted Division and as the Employee and Family Assistance Program Coordinator. Paul is presently the Firefighters and Family Assistance Program Coordinator for the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency. Paul has worked as and with First Responders for the past 45 years.

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Paul has achieved the following certifications: Addictions Counselor, Suicide Intervention Master Trainer, MADD Canada Death Notification Trainer, Bereavement Facilitator, Trauma Responder, Trauma Field Traumalogist, Trauma Services Specialist, Compassion Fatigue Educator, Peer Support and ICISF Approved Instructor.

Over the past 36 years, Paul has developed and implemented policies and programs pertaining to the delivery of Employee and Family Assistance Programs, Referral Agent Programs, Critical Incident Stress Management to emergency service providers such as the RCMP, Emergency Medical Care (EMC) Paramedics, 911 Operators, Children’s Aid Society, Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, Atlantic Support Services Association and the Canadian Coast Guard. As well as for community-based trauma response teams such as Strait Area Debriefing Association, Eastern Shore CISM Debriefing Team, Kanesatake Community Trauma Response Team (Quebec), Yarmouth County Community Response Team and the Chippewa’s of Georgina Island (Ontario).

Paul is of First Nation’s Mi’kmaq ancestry and has also worked with the Native Community in the Maritimes as the Liaison Officer between the Halifax Regional Police and the Native Community. He continues to work with the Native Community across Canada as well he has served on the Atlantic First Nations Task Force on HIV/AIDS, former healing consultant for Teachings of the Sweet Grass Braid Society (survivors of residential school), a facilitator of the Teachings of the Medicine Wheel and former associate counselor for the Eagles’ Nest Recovery House. Paul is the former Director of the Spirit of the Eagles’ Feather Society.

Jason Israel

We are honoured to have Jason as one of our guest presenters at this years event. Retired Sgt Jason Israel was born and raised in Saint John, NB. At the age of 19, he enlisted as an infanteer with our Canadian Armed Forces.

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Jason served his country for 16 years, which included three combat missions to Afghanistan.

Upon his release from the military, Jason competed at the Toronto Invictus Games and, in 2018, won two gold medals in track events at the Warrior Games. Currently, Jason coaches for Soldier On and resides in Burton, NB with his wife, Amanda, and their three children, Jakob, Grace, and Kaleb.

John Garth ACP & Michelle MacDonald RN, MN

John Garth suffered a psychological workplace injury, PTSD in 2010. The PTSD injury was pervasive impacting the entire family. John Garth and Michelle will together share pieces of their PTSD journey –
injury to ongoing recovery as individuals and together as spouses through reflection, dialogue and
predetermined questions by Master of Ceremonies. John Garth and Michelle are honored to be sharing
the stage during the first ever Spouses Discussion Panel with Cst. Brad Cameron and Sara Jane Cameron.

Constable Brad Cameron & Sara Jane Cameron

We are thrilled and honoured to have Constable Brad Cameron and his wife Sara Jane to be part of our first ever Spouses Discussion Panel.

Brad Cameron is a Mountie with five years’ service. Brad and Sara Jane have four children.

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In 2017 Brad was working an overtime shift in Eskasoni, Cape Breton when he was dispatched to a call of an accidental hanging of a 2 year old child. Brad was first on scene with Emergency Health Services and assisted in life saving efforts from Eskasoni, all the way to hospital in Sydney where she was pronounced dead.

Two days later, Brad was sent to Dartmouth by his Sergeant to attend the autopsy following which he was asked to stop at HQ and meet with a force Psychologist and his PTSD struggle truly took flight.  Brad and Sara Jane look forward to sharing their lived experience as a family and his journey to recovery.

This is an exciting initiative incorporated into our agenda this year based on feedback from previous years. This sharing of lived experiences as couples through their family’s journey through OSI and PTSD injuries will provide valuable information for other First Responders and allied Frontline Professionals and their families.

Helping the Helpers - Patricia Gerrior

Dr. Patricia Gerrior

We are honoured and deeply grateful to have Patricia join us again this year and being part of our team. Patricia provides support for people who are attending our education and awareness day!

Patricia is a Clinical Psychologist, parent and grandparent who has worked extensively with children, youth, young adults and their families within the Antigonish, Pictou and Port Hawkesbury communities.

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Throughout her career, she has provided interventions, skill development, and counseling around childhood stress, stressful life events, anxiety, depression, trauma and challenging behaviours. She has been with the NSHA’s Child/Youth team for more than 30 years and continues to provide diagnostic assessments in Pictou County. She provides private practice counseling in person in Antigonish and via telepsychology to those elsewhere in the province

She is delighted at being invited back to the team providing support to first responders and their families at the 7th Annual Helping the Helpers Awareness and Education Day.

Helping the Helpers - Dean Perry

Dean Perry

We are honoured and deeply grateful to have Dean join us again this year and for being part of our team.

Dean provides support for people who are attending our education and awareness day. Thank you Dean!

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Dean Perry, R.Psych. is a Clinical Psychologist in Antigonish. He is a staff psychologist at St. Martha’s Hospital, Nova Scotia Health Authority and has a private practice primarily devoted to front line professionals including paramedics, law enforcement, military and medical. He has served as a Canadian representative to the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network and Public Education Campaigns. He is an honorary Fellow of the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia and he has been recently recognized by the American Psychological Association for his contributions to the field of Psychology.


This year’s event will be held at St. Francis Xavier University Schwartz Auditorium, Schwartz Building and Barrick Auditorium, Mulroney Building.

StFX Mulroney Hall, Barrick Auditorium
2330 Notre Dame Avenue
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
B2G 2W5

StFX Schwartz Auditorium
3090 Martha Drive
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
B2G 2W5


Below are photos from the 6th Annual Helping the Helpers that was held on October 26th, 2019 at St. FX University Schwartz Auditorium.