As a first responder (police, fire, paramedics and prison staff) you represent a unique segment of the population. You routinely run towards emergency situations when others would run away. This response is a trained reaction that likely suites your personality, but nevertheless, counters the evolutionary nature of human brain development.
Until around 20 years ago, first responders were expected to grin-and-bear the multiple, frequent traumas they experienced on the job and when they encountered emotional challenges, they often suffered in silence. We now know that coping through silence only led to exacerbating unwanted emotional challenges and limited- even eliminated, life happiness. In my experience, silence is now recognized by the vast majority of first responder cultures as being counter to a healthy emotional existence. However, first responders are still hesitant to reach out for support and often, for a variety of good reasons.
There is no doubt that every first responder, by the very nature of their profession, should have regular access to counselling sessions. These are called ‘booster sessions’ that should happen at least a few times per year that helps you digest the stresses of your work environment. A first responder will never hear a therapist say “there is nothing to talk about” and you will often find that a story about work that may seem normal, may have left a lasting impression worthy of a discussion. Breaking these memories down into digestible pieces will enable your mind to stay present in your everyday life so that loved ones and positive memories dominate your thoughts and attention.
Words of Caution…
While we are now in an era where first responders are reaching to mental health professionals for support, many often wait until their life is in crisis before they finally reach the office. Simply put, the therapeutic outcomes for someone in crisis become much more difficult and requires a more comprehensive course of treatment in order to restore a pre-crisis level of functioning. Waiting until this point may cost you your marriage, lead to substance dependency and even your job. Be sure to reach out for support before it gets to this point.
Where to Reach for Support During Crisis
- Medical Services – consult a medical doctor or visit the Emergency Room
- Access your employer-sponsored counselling program (often called Employee Assistance Program or EAP)
- Contact your local crisis line or call 9-1-1