Our discussion this week focuses on the mental health needs of an often-overlooked population, the first responders of disasters. The links below provide powerful insights and testimonials to the importance of protecting ones mental health and may be helpful resources in the discussion.
Beyond Debriefing: How to Address Responders’ Emotional Health
Former Emergency Service Workers Speak Out about their Experiences with PTSD
Psychological Trauma and First Responders
After reviewing the course materials, discuss, with detail, three things you believe are critical for first responders to know regarding potential threats of disaster response work to their mental health. These can be of a preparatory and preventative or a post-event recovery nature, or a combination. Selections should be critically important in maintaining or restoring one’s mental health.
Although I am not a first responder, I do think there are key things that should be taken into consideration regarding the mental health for these workers. Being a military member, some of these items are mentioned to us to aid in our overall mental health too. The main thing for a first responder is to be able to talk about it. This can encompass talking with peers or even family members. I think I can speak for the majority, but there are many times that when we get home, we dont necessarily talk about what happened at work. I feel that being able to self-identify the symptoms that show that you need help can alleviate any potential problems at home too. Talking about it can release the heavy weight off of a responders shoulders too. If they remain silent, then something else is going to occur and it is going to continue to pile up until they can no longer take it anymore. This can lead to deep depression and even suicidal ideations (Stone, 2013). If a responder does not feel comfortable speaking to a family member or peer, then they need to be educated on the different paths that can be taken to speak to a mental health professional and/or Chaplain. This also needs to be encouraged by the organization that this will not affect ones career and everything is confidential.
The second important thing to consider is to take a break. This can simply be acknowledging that work will still be there when you return the next day. I can imagine that the job as a responder can be somewhat addicting to the fact that a responder wants to help everyone, but when their shift ends or they hit their 12-hour mark, then they need to go home so that they can rest for the next day. Other than shift hours, responders need to make sure that they are taking their leave or vacation days to have some rest and recovery. This will allow them to recharge their battery and decompress so to speak.
Lastly, a responder needs to train themselves to be mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared. This will ensure that they are always ready for the worst calls and this ultimately makes them more resilient to the worst of situations. Making sure that they are exercising frequently along with a well-balanced meal plan. They need to also make sure that they are taking care of others in need and identifying those symptoms so that they can get those that need help the help that they need.
Stone, A. (2013). Emergency Management. Beyond Debriefing: How to Address Responders Emotional Health. Retrieved from http://apus.intelluslearning.com/v3/course-widget/760/#/document/112655974/1/ef787f8c1bb0431800e6584a8dcbf7b8/0cb9193baa33b2506c0acdeb239bc406/browse_published_content/8061/22695/64389/2/lesson/lesson?hideClose=true&tagId=40512&external_course_id=399312&external_course_name=PSYC431%20I002%20Win%2019
First responders witness unique experiences that always place people in their worst possible moment in life. Car wrecks, fires, explosions, heart attacks, dead children, kidnapped and missing youth, murder, and a million other situations may be on the other end of the next phone call. Generally speaking, first reponders are the same type of person. No matter where you go in the world, they all laugh at the same jokes, have the same stories (generally) and react to weakness the same way. Much like the military, in fact. The moment a first responder shows a sign of weakness, be it physical or mental, they are shunned from the group. These organizations preach about brotherhood and camaraderie, but if you “go crazy” or can’t “suck it up” anymore, you’re out like a sack of hot potatoes.
PTSD is a fairly new phenomenon. Even though it has been a buzzword in the mental health and main stream media worlds for years, it has not been treated as a serious issue until fairly recently. Due to the situations that first responders deal with, they are at a heightened risk for PTSD. It was once thought to be military exclusive, but society and time has shown that anyone is capable of developing PTSD, and NOT being in the military may actually heighten the chance, since many first responders do not expect the same level of trauma that military personnel might. “After the Boston Marathon bombings, for instance, Police Commissioner Ed Davis took the unusual step of calling for large-scale counseling efforts. Officers that I have talked to have been extremely traumatized and saw things that you would see on a battlefield. We are extremely concerned about that, Davis told The Wall Street Journal” (Stone, 2013, para. 5).
The first task should be to remove the “tough guy” stigma that so many organizations posses. I understand that no one designed the system that way and that it is just a byproduct of the types of people that do the jobs, but the civilian sector needs to be educated on the causes, impacts, and long lasting effects of job performance and PTSD. Being told to suck it up when you are crying for help with a problem that the human mind is not designed to solve is only making matters worse. The veteran community already loses 22 people a day to suicide, why must we extend this issue to civilian first responders? Along with this awareness, supervisors need to allot their personnel the time needed to seek treatment. “Even if first responders chose to seek counseling, there is often very little time before the next call with more traumatic aspects is responded to” (Flannery, 2015, para. 6).
Second, the public needs to be made aware of this issue. “Increased public awareness through enhanced media coverage, possibly including interviews with first responders post-incident. As public awareness increases, research monies for assessment and treatment will increase as well” (,Flannery, 2015, para. 15). The public image of these people is one of courage, commitment, skill and strength. I feel that the agencies involved are more worried about their image than they are about actually helping those affected by their duty responsibilities.
Lastly, these people need a safety net of some kind. The military has the VA, and for all of its demons it does do a lot of good for veterans and their families. Based upon the reading provided, it would seem that there is a severe lack in “after care” for mental trauma once a responder has been deemed medically unfit for duty. Fireman Ross Beckley stated during and interview, “you get to 15 years, you get a national medal. Well done, you’ve served Queen and country. When you get medically discharged you’re just virtually thrown out ” (Knowles, 2015, para. 8). It is sad that so many first responders are left to the trauma they fell victim to during their tours of duty as public servants, and the state or local government should be providing for them after the fact, since it happened in the name of the state or local government in the first place.
Flannery, R. B., (2015). Psychological Trauma and First Responders. Retrieved on 19 March 2019 from http://americanmentalhealthfoundation.org/2015/04/psychological-trauma-and-first-responders/
Knowles, L. (2015). Former Emergency Services Workers Speak out About Their Experiences with PTSD. Retrieved on 19 March 2019 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-03/former-emergency-service-workers-speak-about-ptsd/6518506
Stone, A. (2013). Beyond Debriefing: How to Address Responders Emotional Health. Retrieved on 19 March 2019 from https://www.govtech.com/em/training/Beyond-Debriefing-Responders-Emotional-Health.html
My mother is actually a paramedic and has been ever since I was a little kid, but I dont think she was ever bothered by the things she saw and the people she had to deal with on a daily basis. She never brought up much about some of the calls she had to go out on, but she is a strong woman and has handled a lot that many probably couldnt. When she would be home on her days off, I noticed she was talking to coworkers a lot on the phone. Later, I found out she was helping a couple people that were struggling through some of the things that a first responder would have to deal with regularly. She would also talk to them about what she was thinking and going through, so I think talking about it, no matter who its with is an important aspect of trying to having a healthy mental state.
The second thing a responder could do to better help their mental health would be to better prepare for what a responder may see one day. This seems very difficult, but if they were extremely focused on themselves and have a daily routine where they take care themselves physically. Taking care of yourself physically can better help your mental state by a lot. A lot of people dont realize the impact that exercise has on your psyche.
There was a movie that was based on a true story of several firefighters that were battling wild fires across the mid-west and they all ended up dying except for one. It goes on to show the aftermath for the one that survived and the family of the others that passed away. The survivor was devastated, as much as the other family members. Military veterans have the VA, which is helpful for some, but I know the VA is struggling to help out veterans that come back with mental health issues. So, I believe that first responders need the same type of support in order to battle mental health. Im sure there are support groups for these people but having a place they can go to and know they can be helped would do a lot to help.