mental health

‘People looking out for you’: New first responder PTSD group launches in Halifax

Gr8ful Warrior support group aims to create community support

Tyler Anstey depended on peer support, even as he was training to become a support group facilitator.

Anstey was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder in May 2017, after a decade and a half of police work in Halifax began to take its toll. He completed various forms of treatment, and decided to train as a group facilitator to bring the peer group to Halifax.

It wasn’t easy. One day during a training session he broke down crying and had to leave the room.

“Another member came and sat with me and said ‘I don’t know what to say to you, I don’t know how to help, but I just knew that I didn’t want you to be here by yourself.’ And that, in its most simple, purest form, is peer support,” he said in a recent phone interview.

He recently completed his training and is launching the Gr8ful Warrior support group in Halifax this week. Designed to help other first responders and corrections officers who might be struggling, the group is an extension of the Project Trauma Support organization in Perth, Ont.

Among Project Trauma Support’s activities are a weeklong retreat for first responders and military with PTSD. There are also weekly support groups across the country with alumni and current participants.

Two fateful nights

During Hurricane Juan in 2003, Anstey witnessed the death of paramedic John Rossiter when a tree fell onto his ambulance. Anstey and his partner were parked directly in front of the ambulance Rossiter was in. “We happened to be waving to them. We both saw the tree fall. I was the first person into the back of the ambulance with John,” he said.

The next night he responded to a house fire that killed a woman and her two children. Due to the hurricane, body removal service wasn’t available. Anstey and the paramedics had to put the deceased into body bags and ride with them away from the scene in the ambulance.

He considers those two nights the most trying of his life.

“I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing what I had seen both outside and inside the ambulance,” he said. “Nightmares began and then that kind of amplified the following night after the house fire.”

The Perth farm

Anstey didn’t take any time off. He kept working, responding to calls that ranged from homicides and suicides to emotionally charged domestic disputes.

“I thought I was managing them to the best of my ability, and then I wasn’t,” he said.

He tried to take care of himself, doing things like exercising and keeping a journal, but it wasn’t enough. His symptoms worsened. He was crying often, had trouble sleeping and had thoughts of suicide.

One day he asked a friend to drive him to the hospital. He was diagnosed with complex PTSD, went off work and began seeing a psychologist. He soon found himself at the Project Trauma Support farm in Perth, taking part in their residential experiential treatment program.

“It was the first time that I had been surrounded by a group of people where I could look at it and say, ‘hey, I’m not the first person who’s going through this,’” he said.

Healing heart and soul

Dr. Manuela Joannou started Project Trauma Support peer groups to create a PTSD therapy that pays special attention to the social isolation of sufferers.

“There’s so much more to the injury than just the symptoms that get labeled as being those that are accompanying a diagnosis of PTSD,” she said by phone Tuesday. “We recognize moral injury as being more of an injury to a person’s heart and soul.”

A moral injury occurs when someone has to do something that conflicts with their personal values. For example, peacekeepers might have to stand by and let violence take place because their orders are to not engage, or a paramedic might be called to the scene of a shooting and have to treat the gunman.

Joannou said Project Trauma Support’s peer support groups can make a huge difference in the lives of PTSD patients.

“We always find that people will get a piece of a puzzle, maybe from their own story, maybe a bad call … sometimes they’ll meet someone else who has another piece of that same story, and it just makes everything fall into place for them,” she said.

She said socializing within the groups is also very important for recovery, especially for those who were isolated before.

Anstey agrees.

“The biggest piece is that you have people looking out for you,” he said.

Bringing the group home

Anstey says he learned a lot about being resourceful from his time in Perth, which is why he decided to start a group in Halifax.

“There’s some great programs out there, but there’s room for more,” he said.

Gr8ful Warrior will have weekly meetings where participants can anonymously share stories, spread word of different resources, or just sit and listen. It’s open to any first responders, military members, corrections officers, or those who do similar work, with or without a PTSD diagnosis. The meetings are entirely confidential.

“No one will ever be turned away,” said Anstey.

He’s hoping this week’s launch is the first step in developing a larger community.

“I hope that I throw a snowball that is this peer support meeting,” he said. “I hope that snowball hits snow and continues to build, and once it’s left my hand it takes on its own identity.”

Both Anstey and Joannou say the group is not a substitute for psychotherapy or seeing a psychiatrist. It’s also not meant for people in immediate crisis.

The first Gr8ful Warrior meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn, near the Halifax airport.

If you are suffering a mental health crisis the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Telephone Line can be reached 24/7 at (902)-429-8167 or 1-888-429-8167.

32 comments

  1. You should all be ashamed of yourself, for defacing someone, who is trying to help others!! An actual first responder, you are the typical type of individuals that creates fear in sufferers of PTSD. The first responders commenting negatively regarding this individual’s domestic charge versus the point of the article are the people who should be held accountable for a suicide, because their words behind a computer to turn a positive back into a negative, for someone who experienced and still lives with the past is disgusting.. you are the people who answer 911 calls to help people you dont know, but criticize the ones next to you helping and suffering..

    It’s a shame that he went down the path of hurting someone else, but it’s nice to see him pick up the pieces and turn that bad into good…

  2. I know and know OF Tyler Anstey. He’s hurt a lot of people and done a lot of damage. This group is a good start. But in order to turn the tide, he needs to make a lot of apologies to a lot of people.

    For all of you coming to his defense, I suspect it’s only because what you see on social media. We can all be sincere, mindful, compassionate creatures. But sharing an inspirational meme is not the same as following through on actions.

    Let’s hope he’s changed. But that’s a pretty naive hope.

  3. Another first responder here. The amount of individuals defending this guy is SICKENING. I’m sure you’d just look his victim(s?) in the face and say “he just made a mistake” or “it’s because of his ptsd” right?!

    I think opening up this discussion about ptsd and domestic violence is ABSOLUTELY the right move. Anstey is well known in the first responder community and does not have a great reputation. He is not the person to lead this. YOU DO NOT REPRESENT ME.

    I’ve also sent an email to project trauma to express my disgust at their support. And Signal, please fo some backhround research before publishing articles like this.

  4. Everything is not connected. You are not advocating domestic abuse by applauding his efforts to help First Responders in need. And unless you were a witness to the event, you shouldn’t have a comment on it. Domestic abuse is a horrible thing. That is not debatable. Mental Illness does not release anyone from taking responsibility for their actions. It does, however, provide a possible cause for why it may have happened. Not in every case, but definitely in some.

    I know Tyler personally and have talked to him about this incident. I know that he deeply wants to help others. Anyone who says this guy is not a hero or a real First Responder is being ridiculous. Again, the domestic abuse event is not in any way connected to his good work as a police officer. Nor does it mitigate the trauma that Tyler, and every other Police Officer ever, has to endure just by doing their job. More love, less judgement.

    1. Wow Sean really?! You of all people should not be condoning his behaviour considering your opinion of other violent high profile “ptsd survivors”. Hypocrisy at its best!

      And yes, as someone whose job it is to enforce the law, he is held to a higher standard to NOT commit crimes. Personal relationship or not it’s maddening to see you defending him. That’s like saying it’s okay for a teacher to be illiterate.

      My respect for you is gone.

  5. Great to see first responders standing up against this individual. Domestic violence has no place in this world and as a cop, I would think he should be held to a higher standard.

    I’m sure if he was really remorseful for his actions he would be putting energy towards ending donestic violence. But I guess he would rather be doing interviews and patting himself on the back.

  6. As someone who knew Tyler well during the experiences he had in 2003….You people with your ignorant comments have NO idea what that can do to a person. Your personality could be changed due to experiencing these things. I haven’t seen or talked to him in many years and would never condone domestic violence (being a survivor) but good for him for recognizing a need for a support group and doing something to make it happen.
    What have the rest of you done for the world?

    1. Guess you missed most of the comments saying they are first responders. That’s what they’re doing for the world. Know what else they are doing? NOT abusing their partners or children due to a ptsd diagnosis and excusing their behaviour. That’s what they’re doing.

  7. As the Spouse of an Ex-Military Member who has Severe PTSD I am appalled at some of the comments written by members of our Police Force. May my husband never have a run in with them, may they never be the Officers sent to my house for a ‘Welfare Check’. There are 3 sides to every incident – my side, your side and the truth. I would think if any profession understood this fully, it would be the Police force, as they deal with it daily. If Gr8ful Warrior saves one life Tyler, you and all involved are doing what is needed. Hold your head high.

    1. Exactly!!! People are only focusing on one thing and one thing only. And that is that he was charged with a domestic assault. So what, everyone else out there doesn’t matter and doesn’t deserve help and support from
      Someone that is willing to give it. Always three sides to every story. And I’m sure not everyone that has commented on here knows the full truth of what exactly has happened. You know the law works in mysterious ways some times. You are being an inspiration to so many Tyler!

  8. WOW!!!! some of the comments on here totally infuriate me. I can’t believe the negativity coming out of the mouths of you first responders that are suppose to be professional and be there to HELP others! No where in this article does it state that these peer support meetings are about Tyler, about him trying to get attention, or trying to make himself look good! He has had so many people reach out to him for support and I’m sure felt that since he has gotten such great support from his supporters in Perth,ON that he could make an impact on peoples lives here in Nova Scotia. He is not in this alone, as you read it said “peer support “ which is a group of people coming together in a safe, non judgmental environment to share there stories, experiences, healing, resources, & recoveries with each other. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and none of us are perfect! Tyler’s past incidents should not be the focus of this article. He did wrong, he knows that, he has paid the price and will always have to live with his actions. However, here is a man that has seeked help and is trying to move forward with his life along with trying to help others along the way and we have people on here condemning that. You brothers and sisters should be ashamed of yourself! I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Tyler Anesty I would not be here today! The hope, the support, the empathy, and the guidance that he has shown me, I will always be greatful for! And I thank him for that! Not once have I focused on his issues, or actions. I focused on me and my PTSD and finally felt that I wasn’t alone and focused on the fact that there was someone there to help me without asking for anything in return or being judgmental. If you are reading these comments Tyler, I want you to walk around with your head held high knowing that you are making a difference in peoples lives and to not look back at any of the negativity that is being said. Kudos to you for initiating this peer support group!

    1. He is making a difference. Just doesnt seem to be a positive one. Scares me that as a first responder your defending him and his actions.
      Didnt know that domestic violence is now a “mistake” and not a “choice” and “massive character flaw”.

  9. As an ER nurse I stand behind the first responders speaking out against the facilitator of this group. Domestic violence has no business being linked to ptsd.

    This is a very self-serving article and I agree with the narcissism over heroism comment.

    To those first responders who stand up against domestic violence while battling their own demons, I applaud you. And to those that defend this individual with “everyone makes mistakes”, I hope you do not take that same attitude with other victims of domestic abuse. Shame on you.

  10. Everyone’s past leads them to where they are today! If he has turned his struggles, lessons into a way to help others, it’s amazing!! It takes courage to do this, it takes courage to admit you need help and even braver soul to stand up, lend a hand to those who may need help out of that dark place knowing publicly he may face this feedback.
    Keep moving forward and do not let the people in the stands who have not walked your path stop you from helping others!!
    This is wonderful and much needed.

  11. As a domestic abuse survivor it enrages and confounds me those people that have written to say “give him a chance” and “he’s changed” or “it was just a mistake”. Those of you defending him on a professional basis terrifies me. Knowing that you are answring the calls for terrified (women) who have just been assaulted by their partner. These are the reasons why people in abusive relationships have such problems leaving.

    To those first responders standing up against him. I thank you. I also thank you for opening up this conversation and showing the other side to this individual.

  12. Any other first responders who are as disgusted with this individual as i am, make sure to contact project trauma support on their website and let them knoe you wont stand for anstey representing you. We are better than this. We with ptsd are not violent. 98% of us have never had a violent moment in our lives and he does not speak for us.

  13. I’ve known Tyler for a few years now and have seen him go through many different phases. I find it surprising to see other first responders putting down his efforts to help !!! I’m very well aware of Tyler’s “violent” incident with his ex wife, as well as other factors that have brought him to where he is today !
    EVERYONE has a past… EVERYONE !! If you have a personal problem with Tyler, then no one says you have to be friends with him. But I think everyone deserves a chance to do what they need to do in life !
    I myself am not a First Responder but served during 2 wars with the Canadian Military. I am very lucky and I don’t seem to have any problems due to my service. I don’t profess to understand everything about PTSD and the problems associated with it… but I do understand giving people a break and letting them move on from their past !!! It’s funny, I thought bullying and shaming was something I wouldn’t see here !!

  14. As a female police officer I’m torn on this. While I applaud the endeavour, I don’t agree with the person who spearheaded this.

    Many of my fellow officers suffer from PTSD and have never been violent. This particular officer has a history of domestic violence and his PTSD should not be used as a crutch or an excuse for poor decisions. Attending domestic assault incidents on a Regular basis, there is no excuse for his history.

    It also saddens me to see a number of females supporting him and “poo-pooing” other first responders opinions of something very near and dear to (our) collective hearts. We are losing first responders at an incomprehensible rate. You do not get to criticize these people because you have a personal relationship with constable anstey.

  15. WOW… some of you folks are incredible, I have never written or replied to anything like this before but I felt compelled. I don’t know what Mr. Anstey did before, I have no account of his actions from 5 or 10 years ago but I can tell you his actions from 2 months ago prevented me from suicide and therfore saved life. My wife and my family are thankful to him. I am sure if we look at everyone’s past there will be some highlites that we are not all proud of but when someone turns things around and tries to do some good remain silent if you cannot throw in your support.

  16. 19 years as an advanced care paramedic. 11years diagnosed with ptsd. 6 years in therapy and not one violent incident. He does not represent me or any of my fellow brothers or sisters. Shame he’s getting attention.

  17. Proud to call Tyler a friend, and proud of the work he’s put in to help others who struggle. Maybe this support group will save a life. Maybe it will save many lives. Because of people like this, others won’t have to suffer alone. And that’s the bottom line!

    1. What does this have to do with a peer support group? Are you really poo-pooing on this endeavour and a potential for people to get support or just dumping on the person who’s spearheading it?

    1. No one said he is a hero, what has been said is due to his illness he is bringing help to others who are suffering so no one experiences what he experienced alone. How about you read some facts? Always have the worms crawling out of the woodwork.

    2. Where in this article is anyone called a hero? It’s an article about a new peer support group. Your comment makes you sound like yet another whiny millenial who reads and comments based on some personal agenda rather than the subject matter presented.

      1. I’m 23 years in as a firefighter and paramedic. Can you say the same?

        He does not represent me or any of my brothers or sisters in uniform.

        Ptsd in first responders has enough stigma attached to it without the likes of this individual pretending that he’s a great guy.

  18. I suggest you actually take a look at anstey’s past and ask why he blamed his domestic assault charges on his pregnant ex-wife on his ptsd. This is not a person to represent the first responder community. He is not to be celebrated.

    There is enough stigma in the community against first responders and soldiers with ptsd without him adding to it. We’re not violent.

    This is irresponsible reporting.

    1. Another person poo-pooing a support group based on someone’s past. What’s wrong with you people? Until you, Ashley and Sarah brought it up, there was no mention of violence, only of support for a serious issue. Celebrate the resource (the purpose of the article) rather than vilifying the organizer (a personal agenda).

    2. Maybe you should do some homework violent outburst most definitely are a symptom of PTSD!! I myself have been dealing with this cruel mind eating disease and through my process have dealt with rage that leaves me not recognizing the person I have become, and before this in my 40 years of life I was never an angry person!
      I’m not making excuses for anyone but please don’t judge people who show there true raw self and are willing to share there personal struggles to help someone else we are all human and we have all made mistake the difference is what we do after we realize we screwed up!
      And yes I will call this man a HERO because he rises above every shitty card life threw at him and still gives himself to helping people!!

      1. Great. Then let him represent YOU. Not those of us who serve in uniform and are held to a higher standard.

        Let me make this very clear for his groupies. He does not represent me or my brothers and sisters in uniform. He is not an example or “resilience”. Maybe his new word of the day should be “integrity” and he can work on that.

      2. Oh, how I love the public forums. It really gives everyone the option to express their opinions , RIGHT??? Tabitha, I sure hope you know Mr Anstey well enough to justify the “shitty card” life threw at him. I think he has been the one to toss a few of those “cards” to those in his path. Like the mythical creature, the unicorn…one will never know the truth behind Mr Anstey and his intentions. Whether intentional or attention seeking his issues may be linked more to narcissism than the heroism. However, all personal and non-personal facts aside, if Mr Anstey has chosen the path to help others, I cannot spread negativity on that aspect of this article. I do hope Mr Anstey’s choice to help others is to in fact help others and not for any other reason.

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