There is no question that there are significant risks in behavioral health consequences for first responders. Approximately 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, including depression and PTSD. Further, in a study about suicidality, first responders were reported to have higher attempt ideation rates than the general population. The stress of their work does not go away, and many can and will battle with mental health issues.

Unfortunately, not everyone who is struggling feels that they can ask for help, and therefore, this leads to other disorders such as substance use disorder. It is crucial to recognize first responders’ mental and physical challenges and work toward getting them the treatment they need. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why first responders might not act to get help and how raising awareness helps motivate someone to get the treatment they need.

The Pace of the Work

One of the core contributors to mental health issues for first responders is the pace of their work. First responders are typically on the front line facing highly stressful calls. Such a fast pace can lead to an inability to integrate work experiences. It also contributes to erratic sleep patterns and deteriorates any balance and structure within one’s day. The fast tempo also creates an environment where first responders never have enough time to recover between events, sometimes resulting in depression, stress, and PTSD symptoms.

Additionally, the repeated exposure to painful events and experiences can create mental blockages that prevent first responders from facing these events that impact their mental health. Their unpredictable schedules also make it more difficult for them to seek help, including finding transportation, getting time off, and the availability of resources.

Mental Health Stigma

Stigma is a significant issue for many living with mental health issues. Various social and cultural barriers postpone or discourage people from getting the help they need. For example, a study showed that only 24.6% of first responders living with mental health symptoms thought that people would care or try to understand their struggle. However, the same study found that 57.3% of participants not struggling with mental health issues believed that people were sympathetic to the issue. Ultimately, those with mental health issues mistakenly underestimate the overall perception of the general population. Most importantly, the cultural stigma behind mental health stems from the false idea that a person’s mental health issues indicate weakness or a flaw and are therefore unimportant.

Training about Getting Mental Health Help

In training, it’s important for a first responder to understand what to do when feeling anxious, depressed, or suicidal. Taking time to assess one’s personality and mental health status can also help them prepare to handle the stresses of being a first responder. Seeking a psychologist or therapist consistently throughout their duration as a first responder could profoundly impact a person to continue to manage their mental health issues. Working with a therapist can help develop clear protocols and strategic plans to aid in mental health. Taking these measures could also help someone become aware of their vulnerabilities and make plans to manage them. For example, if a first responder is prone to burnout or compassion fatigue, a therapist can develop ways to help them prepare and cope if they should arise.

Ways to Help a First Responder: Intervention Models

Perhaps nothing can be more beneficial than having the support and motivation from one’s peers. Peer-support programs have emerged as a standard practice for supporting first responders at high risk. These programs help educate and create goals of meeting the legal and moral duty to care for first responders as well as addressing multiple barriers to standard care, including:

  • Stigma
  • Time
  • Poor access to providers
  • Lack of trust
  • Fear

Behavioral health interventions to increase resilience and reduce the risk of behavioral health problems have proved effective. Studies found that incorporating a training program in psychological first aid increased self-efficacy and confidence in personal resiliency. Many first responders believed that stress reactions became reduced in the program and that this reduction could improve their performance in the line of duty. These intervention models also led to positive effects on burnout; 82% of all person-directed interventions led to a reduction in burnout or positive changes in risk factors lasting up to six months after the intervention. However, these positive effects fade with time; therefore, it is essential to maintain consistency and follow up with any program.

First responders are at the forefront of each incident or disaster; they help ensure community safety and well-being. However, due to the nature of their work, they can also be in great danger if they do not manage their mental health needs, which can include substance abuse. At New Hope Ranch, we offer a First Responders Program designed to accommodate their unique needs. Our program provides evidence-based and holistic treatments and aims to create a cultural shift in the perceptions of first responders and mental health as a whole. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental or substance use disorders, seek help now. New Hope Ranch in Manor, Texas, is the ideal setting to begin the journey to a healthier life. . To learn more, reach out to us today by calling (737) 600-8565.