Many mental health conditions are more common among first responders, including depression, substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicidal ideation. First responders receive extensive training to prepare them for physically demanding and potentially dangerous jobs, but are they mentally and emotionally prepared? Employers have the opportunity, as well as the obligation, to take a proactive approach to protecting the mental health of their front-line teams. Seeking Online Counselling for mental health & first responder issues would be helpful at TalktoAngel.
First responders face unique challenges.
Constant exposure to traumatic events and life-threatening situations, as well as the stress of working long hours away from family members and under high-stakes conditions, can quickly accumulate and take a toll on mental health.
- Officers and firefighters are more likely to commit suicide than to die in the line of duty.
- 85% of first responders have reported symptoms of mental health issues.
- First responders are up to five times more likely to suffer from depression and PTSD.
The current situation surrounding COVID-19 has only added to the stressors that first responders face on a daily basis. Employers must address these issues head on — and provide robust mental health support to their teams.
Fighting stigma is the first step in supporting first responder mental health.
A first responder’s job is to assist others. Employees often adopt a “whatever it takes” mentality because their strength, bravery, and grit are highly valued. This perpetuates stigma surrounding mental health conditions, which are misunderstood as a sign of weakness. Conversations about mental health are frequently avoided or avoided entirely. However, the high rates of depression, PTSD, substance use disorder, and suicide indicate that first responder mental health must be addressed early and frequently.
Speaking up about mental health opens doors to recovery.
The stigma associated with mental health conditions could be lifted if talking about mental health became embedded in first responder work culture. More than seven out of ten first responders say they would be more likely to seek professional counselling if a leader in their organisation spoke openly about their own experience. And peers have an even greater positive influence — 8 in 10 say they would be encouraged to seek help if a close colleague spoke up.
The importance of prevention in the mental health of first responders
When first responders receive the proper support, depression, PTSD, substance use disorders, and other mental health conditions can be avoided or successfully treated. Employers can play an important role in achieving this.
Encourage the practise of self-care.
Working as a first responder puts a lot of physical and mental strain on you; making time to recover and replenish yourself is essential. As an employer, it is critical to promote, model, and facilitate healthy behaviours such as:
- Getting enough sleep
- Nutritional balance
- Regular physical activity
- Taking time off to spend with family, friends, and valued activities
Recognize the importance of resilience
The ability to cope with adversity and trauma is referred to as resilience. However, a first responder’s job is to jump in and help others who are experiencing trauma. To cope with the stress, they face on the job, first responders require specific — and ongoing — training and support. Investing in resilience training can benefit your team in a variety of ways, including:
- Protecting against burnout
- Stress management under duress
- Recovering from traumatic events
There are numerous resources available to assist first responders in practising self-care and building resilience. MyStrength. external link, for example, is a digital self-care app that now includes 17 interactive tools designed to reduce stigma, address burnout, build skills, and open lines of communication.
Develop your mindfulness skills.
Mindfulness practise can help first responders manage stress in the present and become more resilient in the future. In one study, first responders who participated in online mindfulness training for 5 to 10 minutes per day for 30 days felt less stressed, more resilient, and more engaged at work.
Employers can help first responders in a variety of ways.
First responder mental health is a complex and evolving topic, and COVID-19 has added to the stressors.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but you can help steer your organisation in the right direction by doing the following:
- Make mental health a priority. Include mental health and wellness, suicide prevention, and anti-stigma initiatives in your workplace wellness strategy. Inform others about available resources. external link established through regular outreach and promotional materials distributed throughout the workplace Spread the word about available resources, such as these flyers (PDF). external link promoting the First Responder content on myStrength.
- Stress the link between mental and physical health. Leaders should address mental health in the same way they address physical safety. They should be advocates for eradicating stigma and fostering a culture of acceptance and support.
- Examine shift schedules to assist employees in prioritizing their sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to unsafe working conditions and health risks; therefore, promote shift schedules that maximize off-duty time for recovery. Create educational programs about sleep quality and quantity, as well as annual screenings for sleep disorders.
- Encourage employees to engage in physical activity. Developing a voluntary, incentive-based program is an excellent way to encourage employees to exercise more. Employees, for example, can choose to take a fitness assessment once a year in exchange for a one-time payment. This benefits everyone because healthy behaviours are rewarded, and healthier employees have lower health-care costs.
- Invest in stress management and mental health awareness training. Create ongoing learning opportunities to assist employees in developing resilience and positive coping skills. These trainings should be mandatory and on-the-job, rather than optional and on employees’ own time.
- Employees should be trained to recognize warning signs. Programs such as Mental Health First Aid. external link can teach them how to recognize the signs of chronic stress and mental health conditions in themselves and their peers, as well as what to do if they suspect someone is in danger. Training designed or delivered by other first responders can also be very effective.
- Create peer support programs. First responders may feel more at ease speaking with someone who has gone through and survived what they are going through. Try to include team members of various ranks, positions, and backgrounds.
- Maintain regular resiliency check-ins. Make it clear that these aren’t fitness-for-duty evaluations, but rather conversations about how employees are feeling and what they’re doing to practise self-care and manage stress. It’s also a point of contact where they can discuss any additional assistance they may require.
Assisting those who assist
To keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, we rely on first responders. That is a huge responsibility. It’s not easy to run into a burning building day after day while everyone else runs away. Employers can play an important role in ensuring that we all show up for first responders in the same way they do for us. Asking for assistance should be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness. Employees should have access to the resources they require to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. Furthermore, there should be an ongoing conversation about mental health that promotes a culture of awareness, acceptance, and support.
Feel free to seek Online Counseling at Talk to Angel for mental health and first responder issues.