First responders are the heroes of our communities. They experience unthinkable things on a daily basis. While mentally and emotionally strong, what happens when the work starts to get to them? What do they do when the mental load of the job starts to bleed into their personal life? What happens when it just becomes too much for them to carry?
The correct answer is that they should reach out for help. Unfortunately, there is a stigma around mental health care among first responders. A stigma that says they should be mentally strong all the time and never falter. They should be able to handle their jobs and be able to compartmentalize things so that they aren’t feeling overwhelmed by the things that they see. However, we need to create an environment where first responders feel comfortable discussing their mental health. First responders deserve an environment where they can work through their emotions instead of suppressing them and hiding how they might be struggling. If their mental health needs are not addressed, it can affect them in the workplace, in their family life, and in terms of their physical health.
Challenges Due to Stigma
There are many reasons that a first responder might feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health. One of them is if they are uncomfortable talking to anyone about their problems. They also might feel they don’t have a good enough relationship with anyone to speak up about their mental health struggles. Additional reasons may include:
- They need to be strong. Another contributing fact is this mentality that they have to be brave and strong because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. Their job revolves around them being the tough ones, and showing any sign of mental struggle will prove them to be powerless.
- Fear of being judged. It’s common for first responders to worry that their colleagues or superiors might judge them. There is a fear of lack of confidentiality, that if someone talks to one person, it will spread that they are struggling, and then they will be looked down on.
- Miss out on growth opportunities. Some first responders even fear that they will lose out on opportunities or promotions in their careers if they confess that they are battling their mental health.
- Knowing where to find help. There is also difficulty in scheduling and finding time to go somewhere to talk to someone. First responders may lack the resources to help. They may also fear going to community programs for fear of being noticed. First responders need a space where they can feel comfortable.
How Does This Impact First Responders?
When first responders don’t take the necessary steps to nurture their mental health, they are more likely to have negative attitudes and biases toward people they come across in their job that might be struggling with mental health issues. They might develop issues with feeling empathy and compassion for those they come in contact with in their job from the constant physical or emotional exhaustion.
The lack of conversation about mental health and the battle that might be going on in people’s minds can cause first responders to develop serious mental health conditions like PTSD. Higher rates of PTSD in first responders are becoming more prevalent, resulting in higher rates of suicide in first responders.
How Do We Fix It?
The big question is, how do we fix this problem? What is the solution? It starts with a conversation. It takes one person speaking up to change the conversation – to show that people who are talking about mental health aren’t weak or less brave. That it makes them strong for wanting to deal with all parts of their well-being.
If a firefighter had a burn from fire, many would expect them to go to the hospital to be treated and encourage them to get better. We should be doing the same for first responders with mental health struggles. We should be encouraging them to get help and reach out to professionals that can help them heal. We need to provide opportunities for first responders to have the time (on or off shift) to have access to a mental health professional.
Help and Support From Their Employer
Leadership needs to create an environment that promotes tolerance and discourages discrimination around mental health. There should be active training in teaching techniques for first responders to cope with the stress of their jobs and the things they have seen. They should be taught mindfulness techniques that help them repair any type of compassion fatigue they might be experiencing from the lack of mental health care they aren’t receiving.
First responders are the first people on the scene in most accidents. They are the brave men and women to run toward a disaster when everyone else is running away. They see things that most other people can’t even fathom. As a result, their mental health needs to be monitored and nurtured constantly; however, stigma sometimes stands in their way.
At Acera Health, we aim to end the stigma that first responders shouldn’t need mental health care. We accomplish this by providing a space for first responders to work through their mental health issues. Our programs go beyond the conventional and are tailored to educate and enrich your life. It starts with a conversation.
If you or a loved one is currently struggling with a mental health issue, then the time to seek help is now. Find out more by calling us today at (949) 647-4090.