How To Help Our First Responders In Crisis
From the devastating wildfires in California to Hurricane Dorian’s destruction up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and The Bahamas, it seems almost every month we’re facing some of the worst natural disasters to wreak havoc on our Nation’s soil. And who are the first on the scene to face these highly dangerous situations? First responders. The term first responders include federal, state, and local governmental and nongovernmental emergency fire, law enforcement, emergency medical, and related personnel.
These heroes are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support – but they are the last to ask for help. After the devastating hurricane in the Bahamas, a rescue worker in the midst of recovering bodies of those who were lost stated, “You have to be mentally stable because when you’re seeing these things, and when people who lost loved ones are crying on your shoulder – you can’t break down on them (Reuters).” This emotional toll can put first responders at an increased risk of mental health issues and substance use disorders.
First Responders Mental Health Risks
According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population.
- 40 percent of Emergency Medical Technicians engage in high-risk drug and alcohol use.
- Between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year.
- Firefighters are reported to have higher suicide attempts and ideation rates than the general population.
Help and Hope
Sadly, shame surrounds mental health issues within these professions, leaving many first responders to suffer in silence and turn to substances as a way to cope with their harsh realities. So how can these brave heroes get the support they need and back to the life they deserve? Organizations like SAMHSA has a free online training course called “Service To Self” that informs first responders about their increased risk of experiencing mental health and substance use issues. It also equips them with information on how to address these issues, such as:
- Recognizing the warning signs of mental health and substance use issues in yourself and peers.
- Being aware of risk factors for and prevalence of mental health and substance use issues in their professional communities.
- Discussing mental health and substance use-related issues with colleagues to help reduce stigma.
- Identifying and using stress management and healthy coping techniques.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also offers educational resources and recommends:
- Limiting working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts.
- Work in teams and limit the amount of time working alone.
- Talking to family, friends, teammates and supervisors about feelings and experiences.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
- It’s okay to draw boundaries and say “no.”
Local mental health advocacy organizations and “help-lines” also provide much-needed assistance for first responders and their families, check your state or county online for more details. Also, remember to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you or someone you love is in crisis – there are many first responders and veterans who volunteer and can help.
Treatment For Substance Use Disorder and Addiction
When a first responder feels overwhelmed and turns to drugs or alcohol, professional treatment can provide life-saving tools to help him or her get back on the road to a healthier life. If you or someone you love is dealing with mental health issues and a co-occurring substance use disorder or addiction, Daylight Recovery Services offers treatment that is tailored to each person’s unique needs. Contact us and get help today.