by Anna Mazek-Vann, LCPV
When it comes to trauma, we are all exposed to so some degree of traumatic events throughout our lives. As a result of our exposure we develop different coping mechanisms and resilience. But what if you experienced traumatic events on regular basis, how would you cope with that exposure? There are individuals that have a lot more exposure to trauma due to their job and profession, they are our first responders. So, who is in this group? This group includes our law enforcement, fire fighters, paramedics, military personnel and emergency department staff and they all face constant exposure to trauma, which in turn creates toxic stress. What that really means is that first responders need additional support, they need time and space to deal with their emotions, feeling and thoughts. Yet within each of the groups there exists that sense of brotherhood, pride of being strong, stoic and resilient.
Historically police officers, firefighters and other first responders, as a group tend to ignore stress and mental anguish. First responders often feel that asking for help or admitting that they are struggling is a sign of weakness. Clinicians working with first responders often hear things like “just be a man”, “real men don’t cry or fall apart”. Yet from a mental health prospective we all have our breaking points when placed in stressful situations and at times need additional help and support. When that point comes is different for different individuals.
The reasons why this issue is so important is that first responders are at higher risk for suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), substance abuse than rest of the general population .
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has these frightening statistics:
- 1-5 adults in the United States has diagnosis of mental illness,
- 1-4 police officers had thoughts of suicide at some point during their life.
- 7-19 % of police officers have symptoms of PTSD, compared to 3-5 % of general population.
In response to these statistics the International Association of Chief of Police ( IACP) recognized the need to address the need for mental health assessment, education and intervention. In July 2013, IACP hosted: Breaking the Silence: A National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health. Participants worked together to develop a national strategy to address officer mental wellness and suicide prevention strategies.
The International Association of Fire Fighters ( IAFF) also recognize that firefighters and EMS providers are at higher risk for developing PTSD than general population, due to constant exposure to traumatic events on the job.
So, what are some steps that should be taken to address this growing issue? First we need to eliminate the stigma of how we look at mental health. Breaking down these walls will enable the first responders to seek and receive the help that they need and deserve. There should be no judgment in needing to seek mental health services. It is not a sign of weakness or inability to function on the job. In fact when first responders seek mental health assistance it shows their commitment to their job and their family. There are many skilled clinicians that can assist not only the first responder, but also their families.
If you are in need, or have a friend, colleague or family member that needs this assistance, give them this information. For confidential assessment please call Anna Vann at 847-240-5080 extension 17 at Core Psychotherapy Center.