A common saying in our society is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s always better to prevent a problem than to try and fix it. However, first responders are the ones to fix the problems that arise from the world around us. As much as we try to prevent natural disasters, crime, and medical emergencies, the fact is that they will always need to be dealt with.
This isn’t always the case when it comes to someone’s mental health. Due to a lack of education and access, many people don’t know how to take care of their mental health. Some don’t even know what signs to look out for when their mental health is in danger. For first responders, people who have to think and work quickly, this is something important to learn and understand.
We owe it to the ones who put their lives on the line so selflessly to help them when they need it. If you or someone you love is a first responder, here are some tips to look after your mental health before a serious problem develops.
Arrange for Regular Mental Health Checkups
It’s understood that a first responder will eventually see and experience things that will be very stressful and traumatic. Enough exposure to these events can cause several mental health disorders. The disorder most strongly associated with first responders is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because first responders mobilize after a tragedy, and the things they must see and do can injure the mind.
These reasons are why it’s so important to arrange for mental health care as soon as possible. Even just checking in once in a while is enough for a trained professional to spot a problem before it gets worse. Therapists can also teach you healthy coping skills to use when confronted with traumatic events. Many average citizens won’t be capable of understanding exactly what a first responder goes through. A therapist, however, is specifically trained to help you process your feelings and emotions. This is extremally valuable and can help you sort out feelings before they can linger and fester.
Much like how people go to the doctor for health checkups, the same should be done for someone’s mind.
Find or Make a Support Network of Fellow First Responders
There are several support networks and treatment programs out there for first responders, such as Code Green. No average citizen can fully understand what a first responder goes through. By having a support network of fellow first responders, you surround yourself with people who do understand. These people know how you feel and what you are going through and can offer helpful advice and support when needed. Knowing someone understands how you feel is very comforting.
Some support groups already exist in some areas, especially in larger cities. Local mental health treatment centers often keep a list of active support groups. Several support groups and forums exist online for fellow first responders. If you cannot find one through these means, it’s possible to create one yourself. The point is to support each other. First responders are already used to working as a team, and it’s especially true when creating a support group.
Support networks can become more than just a place to talk about your feelings. It can be a place where you meet life-long friends. Friends who can truly understand you and can help you when you need it the most.
Rest and Eat Well for Your Mental Health
To have a healthy mind, you need to also have a healthy brain.
It’s difficult to find the right balance between work and health, especially with how to spread thin our first responder network is. It seems like everyone has to do the work of three people to get the job done, and tragedy doesn’t adhere to a standard workday. However, it’s still vitally important to stay as healthy as possible.
This means getting proper rest and eating a good diet. You should do your best to get a good quality night’s sleep and practice healthy sleep hygiene. However, some first responders are on call and may not get a full night of uninterrupted sleep. Some rest is better than no rest at all. Try your very best to, at the very least, have some time to lie down and turn off your brain for a little while. Ask your doctor and mental health professional the best way to rest around your schedule and do your best to stick with it.
Nutrition is also important. Several recipes have since come out to make homemade portable ‘meal’ bars that are easy to carry and store. These can be made days in advance and are highly nutritious. Select foods like this that can be taken with you and stored when you have no time to stop for a proper meal. Eat several small meals a day instead of a few big ones. It may even be necessary to take multivitamins or supplements. Again, it’s important to speak with your doctor, as they will be able to tailor a personal meal plan to suit you.
Remember That You Aren’t Alone
It may feel like your burdens are too much to bear and that nobody can understand you. This is not the case. Remind yourself every day that there is always help for you and that you deserve to be helped. First responders give so much of themselves that it often feels like nothing is left. If you feel as though it’s too much, pick up the phone and ask for help. Let others help you like how you help others. It’s okay to be helped.
You don’t have to wait until a disaster happens to come up with a plan of action. The same can be said for your mental health, especially for our first responders. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we strive to provide not only quality care but provide preventative care as well. We can teach people the skills they need to take care of their mental health in a healthy and productive way. We also offer a program specifically tailored for first responders called Code Green. If you or someone you love would like to know more information about mental health or the Code Green program, call (949) 647-4090 to speak with one of our qualified professionals.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.