Every day in the life of emergency personnel is a stressful one. They encounter tragedies most of us are lucky enough to avoid, and even on a “slow” day, the stress of not knowing what comes next is daunting. This is why it’s so important for first responders to deal with trauma in healthy ways. Failure to do so can lead to many significant issues.
Just consider a few of the challenges faced by emergency personnel on any given day:
- Demanding schedules that keep them away from home
- Relationship problems linked to job requirements
- Difficulties finding time to take care of themselves
- Repeat exposure to distressing events and traumatized individuals
- Persistent feelings of guilt from situations they couldn’t help
- Feelings of lacking self-efficacy and control
Each of these issues can lead to or exacerbate depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other psychological conditions. By focusing on proven strategies for first responders to deal with trauma, though, it’s possible to live a normal life. The following steps can help emergency personnel deal with the difficulties inherent to their jobs.
If you feel like you need more help, though, contact us at Mending Fences today to learn about the Help For Our Heroes program.
Utilizing Pre-Existing Resources
You’ll learn throughout this guide that first responders dealing with trauma is nothing new. Emergency professionals face serious stressors, and there are countless resources available. Rather than working in response to potential issues, though, try to utilize tools that help prevent problems from arising in the first place.
To start, check to see if your department has a policy for Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISD). These take place after significant traumatic events and are meant to foster recovery among responders. Even before an incident, though, you can use resources like the Creating Safe Scenes and Shield of Resilience training courses from SAMSHA.
Each of these acknowledges the difficulties faced by first responders dealing with trauma. They also focus on helping these professionals prepare themselves for difficulties — all while helping them understand how to better care for themselves before, during and after traumatic incidents.
Leaning On Loved Ones — Yes, It’s Possible
There’s a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to emergency response personnel leaning on their loved ones for support. First responders dealing with trauma have an advantage when they can share with spouses or family members. Unfortunately, revealing distressing details can actually lead loved ones to experience vicarious trauma.
Emergency professionals also have to think about the confidentiality of the people they assist. Considering all these hurdles, it may seem impossible to lean on loved ones when first responders are dealing with trauma. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can improve communication and make the most of your social support system:
- Be proactive about spending time together. Make plans in advance and stick to them.
- Take time to decompress following a shift prior to getting back into “normal” mode.
- Discuss the demands of your job with your spouse and let them know why certain things are off-limits.
- Take loved ones to events where your colleagues are present (e.g. company picnics, etc.).
The final two strategies listed might be the most important. If a loved one doesn’t understand why you don’t discuss work more often, they may think you’re hiding something. This can seriously affect trust in a relationship. By speaking about this beforehand and introducing them to the men and women who have your back, you can keep the trust intact.
The moral of this story is that first responders dealing with trauma can depend on loved ones — even if they can’t be fully open about the experiences they go through.
Building Resilience Through a Healthy Lifestyle
Envision a situation where you have a home and take upkeep very seriously. You perform suggested maintenance frequently because you want the property to last. If the structure wasn’t built on a strong foundation, though, all this hard work could potentially be wasted. This is very similar to the situation faced by first responders dealing with trauma.
Just like any other strong structure, emergency personnel need a solid foundation. This won’t necessarily prevent depression, anxiety or any other common first responder mental health issues caused by traumatizing events. It will give an individual a better chance of facing trauma, however, without letting it affect their lives.
Here are just a few tips to keep in mind:
- Try your absolute best to get a full seven hours of sleep
- Make a point to eat healthy whenever possible
- Don’t self-medicate using drugs or alcohol
- Exercise whenever you have a chance — even if it’s only five minutes
- Take breaks or time off if you need them
When first responders deal with trauma, they often attempt the feat on their own. That’s because they feel as if they’re already resilient to the stressors they face. To be sure, they’re far more resilient than most people. That’s what makes them good at their jobs. By focusing on these simple strategies for a healthy lifestyle, though, they can add resiliency that’s invaluable for their health.
Of course, even this won’t always be enough.
Seeking Out Help When Necessary
First responders dealing with trauma have more hurdles in their way than most people. They’ll often ignore the issues they’re facing due to demanding schedules. In some situations, they may even purposefully pack their schedules in order to avoid confronting their issues. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fix anything. Any emergency personnel facing trauma should seek help.
Unfortunately, far too many people still see a stigma with mental health. They worry they’ll be branded if they reach out for professional help. It’s imperative that first responders get past this false belief. Emergency professionals experience some of the highest rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and posttraumatic stress disorder in the world.
This simple fact shows that there is nothing wrong with you if you’re a first responder dealing with trauma. The foundation of the Help For Our Heroes program at Mending Fences is based on this fact. Visit our First Responders Mental Health page today to learn more.
Self-care and healthy living are far too often equated to each other. The latter is certainly part of the former, but self-care touches on so much more. Any first responder dealing with trauma can benefit from these strategies, but they also offer a measure of proactive protection. Even if you think some of these sound silly, give them a go and see if they help:
- Practice relaxation and breathing techniques (there are apps that help)
- Watch a few beginner’s yoga videos and try out the stretches
- Write about your day and thoughts in a journal
- Find ways to occupy downtime (e.g., board games, baking)
- Practice positive self-talk
- Remember that it’s not selfish to need a break
Self-care techniques are ideal for first responders dealing with trauma. People from all walks of life use these strategies to stay happier. When working in a field where disaster, trauma, and emergencies are the norm, what could be more important than that?
There’s Help for First Responders Dealing With Trauma
The life of an emergency responder is no doubt a stressful one. Unfortunately, we see this truth through countless statistics that show just how burdensome the stressors on a first responder can be. While nothing can make the stress related to such a career vanish, the strategies discussed in this guide will go a long way in minimizing its effect.
The most important takeaway from these tactics, though, is that all the self-help and proactive steps in the world won’t always be enough. For many first responders dealing with trauma, there’s a feeling that their efforts are futile. If you’re in this position, contact us today at Mending Fences. The Help For Our Heroes program was designed with emergency personnel in mind.
Help is available if you want it, and it all starts with a phone call.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Centers for Disease Control
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration