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Emergency responders, which include the police, firefighters and paramedics, are the first to arrive at the scene of an incident, are in the business of protecting others and helping to save lives. These workers are on call during natural disasters, technological failures, terrorist attacks, and many other potentially traumatic events. Emergency responders are the unsung heroes of many communities that they work hard to keep safe and secure.
While emergency responders are heroes, it’s important that people know these brave men and women sometimes need assistance, too. The pressure and stress associated with being an emergency responder can sometimes be overwhelming, and it’s times like that when emergency responders need help.
Comprehensive statistics on stress-related medical conditions among first responders are difficult to tabulate because many incidents go unreported or unshared. However, pressures of the job and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can take its toll on paramedics and law officials. EMS World reports that, between January and September of 2014, the United States had around 58 documented fire/EMS suicides. In Canada, 25 first responders were known to have committed suicide in a five-month period in 2014.
Addressing the stress of being an emergency responder can help responders and their families better cope with the pressure and stress of the job. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that all workers involved in first-responder activities should help themselves and others to reduce the risk of stress-related psychological and physical health effects from their jobs.
Certain symptoms and behaviors may present themselves when emergency responders are having difficulty coping with the demands of the job. These symptoms may include:
• Changes in sleeping patterns
• Passive or fatalistic behavior
• Frequent conflict and argumentative behavior
• Limiting social networks and general withdrawal
• Poor problem-solving abilities
• Poor concentration
• Inability to rest
• Self-medicating with alcohol
While there is no single method to cope with the physical and psychological demands of a first reponder’s job, a combination of therapies can help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that responders need to take care of their own health to maintain the constant vigilance they need for their own safety. These steps can put workers on the right track.
• Form a support network in which each responder looks out for one another. Knowing support is available can be a big help.
• Take frequent breaks to clear the mind and rest the body. Try to take breaks away from a work area.
• Accept what cannot be changed, such as chain of command or long hours.
• Take advantage of mental health support services when they are made available. Recognize that it is not indicative of weakness to discuss difficult emotions.
• Maintain a healthy eating pattern and try to get adequate sleep.
• Exercise, which can reduce feelings of stress and be a healthy way to clear the mind and strengthen the body.
Recognizing that emergency responders are not invincible and may need some emotional support can be the first step in getting these workers the help they need and deserve.