Mental health advocate remembered for inspiring others

OSI-CAN Facebook photo

Friends of a recently-passed first responder and mental health advocate are remembering him by carrying on his legacy.

Chris Siddons was a founding member of OSI-CAN, a support group for first responders and veterans who suffer from an operational stress injury (OSI), such as post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health concerns caused by exposure to trauma on the job. He died by suicide Thursday.

In addition to helping found OSI-CAN, Siddons was a vocal mental health advocate working to create change so other first responders would have the support they needed.

Jack Rennie, an advanced care paramedic and mental health advocate, was inspired by Siddons.

“We attended a couple of conferences together in October. He spoke and inspired the entire room.”

Rennie also works as a facilitator for an OSI-CAN group. But Siddons contributions went far beyond OSI-CAN.

He was helping Rennie and Michelle McKeaveney put together a new initiative, a Resiliency and Recovery Ranch that would allow first responders to have somewhere to go where they could access supports and heal.

The initiative was separate from OSI-CAN.

“He provided quite a bit of inspiration and informal support. As a mental health advocate, he paved the way for us to be able to take on such a venture,” Rennie said.

“It’s important to note how incredibly compassionate he was to everyone he came across. That’s why he found himself in emergency medical services working in rural Saskatchewan. He found a new passion in that.

“That just speaks to his incredibly giving soul.”

The retreat Rennie and McKeaveney are putting together will have various clinicians available, such as psychotherapists, equine therapy, accelerated resolution therapy and neuro-feedback, combining all sorts of ways of healing as almost a one-stop shop.

‘Almost like a buffet of different therapies so that people can find the best one that suits their needs,” Rennie said.

It will be located in the RM of Prince Albert. It’s been a work in progress for the last six months and is now going through its final stages of approval.

Siddons was one of the visionaries of the project, Rennie said.

The hope is the project will be a hybrid social enterprise with a charitable component so funding can be provided by first responders or veterans unable to afford to attend the retreat.

As the project comes together, the plan is to fundraise to build some cabins in Siddons’ name, and in the name of his service dog, Sierra.

“It will be done in memory of Chris, since he was such a huge advocate for mental health,” Rennie said.

“We’re doing it to highlight the good qualities he brought to the profession, and the things he did, the amazing qualities he had, inspiring and touching so many lives during his time here with us.”

GoFundMe set up for Siddons’ family

OSI-CAN, the organization Siddons started, did not respond to a request for comment. However, the organization did post a short tribute to Siddons on Facebook Friday.

“Today we mourn the passing of one of the founding members of OSI-CAN,” the post said.

“ His strength and heart will be missed by all but his vision to help others will endure!! We have the watch from here Chris Siddons, Rest easy!!”

The organization also shared a GoFundMe started by Siddons daughter, who lives in the UK and is raising funds to be able to travel to Canada to attend his funeral.

The GoFundMe is located at https://www.gofundme.com/ypqen-get-to-my-dads-funeral?fbclid=IwAR2yj8lVupsB072Ic08E3XEqjYybN8Q_jHCd_B1Edxvzc3XteW5owBeIdA4