First responders include law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services, and public safety telecommunicators. Due to the nature of their careers, they are facing suicide at an alarming rate. According to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, in 2017, more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty.
What Impacts First Responders?
First responders are exposed to many horrific experiences on the job. They see things like death and are tasked with having to tell the families that their loved one has passed away. They see physical injuries after natural disasters. They understand the pain, grief, and loss of the loved ones of those who passed on after tragedy strikes. It is taxing on their mental health to deal with these things daily.
Coupled with challenging work schedules, the physical nature of their jobs, and the lack of safety and security can result in physical and emotional trauma. Most first responders do not seek help for their mental health because of stigma, which perpetuates mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide.
Signs to Look For
First responders are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can lead to suicide. Signs to look out for include:
- Intrusive thoughts: People with PTSD have intrusive thoughts and memories. They usually are unwanted recurrent memories from the traumatic event. The memories can also come in the form of flashbacks and nightmares.
- Avoidance: When battling PTSD, people normally experience avoidance. They avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. They might avoid going to places or seeing people that trigger traumatic feelings and thoughts.
- Mood changes: They may experience destructive changes in mood. They might think negatively about the world and the people in it. They could feel hopeless about the future and have difficulty maintaining relationships with friends and family. Some individuals may describe themselves as feeling numb and struggling to feel positive emotions or enjoyment in things that they enjoy.
- Affect relationships: PTSD can cause changes in physical and emotional reactions. PTSD can interfere with sleep and concentration. A person with PTSD could feel like they are always on guard, worried something might happen, which, in turn, may cause them to be easily startled or frightened.
Signs of Suicidal Ideations
It can be difficult to know when someone is contemplating suicide. The main sign of suicide is feeling hopeless, expressing that one has no reason to live, or being a burden to others. These phrases create an urgent need to seek professional help. However, it is not always so straightforward. Sometimes signs of suicide could look like this:
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from activities they enjoy
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
- Poor sleep
If someone exhibits these signs, then the time to reach out is now. The longer someone tries to deal with these mental struggles, the more likely they will fall into destructive suicidal ideations.
How to Help First Responders
There is a stigma around mental health, especially among first responders. Many fear being discriminated against if they speak out. They are afraid they will be deemed weak in a job where one is supposed to be brave and tough. They may also worry that their colleagues and superiors will look down upon them if they speak about a job-induced mental illness.
What can be done to help end the stigma of mental illness in first responders? One way to bring awareness is by talking about first responders and their mental health. Additionally, more work-related training about mental health among first responders can encourage these men and women to seek help. First responders have access to the most up-to-date physical equipment to perform their job to the best of their abilities, so why shouldn’t they have access to the best mental health resources?
Work With a Therapist
Working with a therapist can do wonders for a person’s mental health. Starting there can make a world of difference and can lead to conversations about other treatment options. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, EMDR, hypnotherapy, and medications can help first responders address the source of their trauma and suicidal ideations.
There are also in-patient and outpatient treatment programs to help one manage their mental illness. Acera Health offers two types of outpatient programs: partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Having these different options allows for each person to decide which treatment is best for them and allows them to have the type of functionality they would like in their life while still receiving lifesaving treatment.
Being a first responder is a heroic job that deserves praise. However, first responders need help, too. Our first responders deserve a life of happiness and joy, to feel fulfilled in both their professional and personal lives. We need to end the stigma about first responders having to be tough and brave so that they feel comfortable reaching out for help when struggling with their mental health, and Acera Health can help. We want to help first responders struggling with suicidal ideations overcome these thoughts. We prioritize mental health services for first responders and want to equip them with the best possible tools to combat the mental load they face at work. If you or someone you love is struggling, please reach out for help so we can assist you in your journey. To find out more information about our programs, reach out to us today and call (949) 647-4090.