We recognize that first responders provide an invaluable service to our community by putting out fires, saving lives and protecting us from danger.
First responders put themselves at risk every day. By doing so, they are likely to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, post-traumatic symptoms, etc. It’s difficult to emotionally be both defensive and offensive, watching your back at all times, then coming home to be a husband, father, mother, etc., playing games, helping with homework, making dinner, etc. Many times, spouses and family members don’t really know what the first responder encountered that day. The responder might actually try to forget about the experience, yet its still very much a part of their day and night, often re-thinking the events. Additionally, the image of a first responder is of being strong. This is often viewed by not crying or showing emotion. Yet we all know too well that by needing to be strong all the time we are denying the opportunity to express emotion; however vulnerable it makes us feel.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson recently reported that seven Chicago police officers have died by suicide in less than a year, including three who took their own lives while on-duty or on department property — something that experts said is rare among officers. The U.S. Department of Justice found that the Chicago Police Department had a suicide rate up to 60% higher than the national average for law enforcement officers between 2013 and 2015.
Houston Fire Department psychologist Jana Tran’s, PhD, main role is to serve as the mental health first responder to firefighters who may be in distress after responding to a lethal fire or a difficult 911 call, such as the death of a child. Tran meets firefighters wherever and whenever they need her.
The stress of firefighters’ work goes far beyond battling fires: They spend about 85 percent of their time responding to emergency medical service calls that can involve suicides, abuse, shootings, car accidents and other distressing incidents that can take a toll on these men and women. Tran’s research shows that many Houston firefighters develop depression and post-traumatic stress from their work that puts them at an increased risk for suicide—a revelation that has led the city’s fire department to focus more on this population’s mental health.
We are able to help recognize the stressful circumstances related to first responder jobs and help improve communication among family members. As health psychologists, we can recognize the effects on the physical, emotional and social parts of the responder’s lives. For example, weight gain, poor sleep, alcohol use/abuse, ulcers, isolation, domestic violence, etc. may be manifestations of stress. Coping skills include time to express feelings in a warm empathic environment.
We understand what First Responders go through and can offer assistance in many different ways. Please give us a call!
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