First responders are the backbone of society in times of crisis. They put themselves in danger every day to protect and save lives — but such selflessness has a cost. The constant exposure to traumatic events can take a toll on their mental and physical health. Stress-related disorders, substance abuse, and suicide rates are higher among first responders than the general population.
If you’re in fire response, medical response, or law enforcement, here are important first responder wellness steps that you can take toward a happier, healthier life.
Recognize the Causes of Stress
The first step towards improving wellness is to recognize the causes of stress, and that’s largely the work environment for first responders. The physical nature, odd hours, and long shifts can be exhausting. Additionally, witnessing human suffering, life-and-death decisions, risk of harm to self, and other aspects of work for first responders can lead to mental, emotional, and physical fatigue.
Often, as responders deal with the trauma, high-pressure situations, and potential injury, they are led to inevitable emotional exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Mental health centers such as Deer Hollow are great resources to help responders as they navigate improving their day-to-day quality of life after such trauma. Deer Hollow treats trauma differently than other mental health centers, as their clinicians and programs treat the core of responders’ trauma first, in order to help them more fully recover and heal the resulting mental health issues.
Practicing self-care is crucial for first responders to maintain their mental and physical health. Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep can help alleviate stress and improve overall well-being. Engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and fulfillment can also help first responders disconnect from work and recharge. Self care is not indulgent, but is absolutely necessary for first responders.
Proper self-care won’t necessarily address the actual challenges that responding to calls and working shifts presents. Taking care of yourself will, however, give you a strong baseline from which you’ll face those challenges.
Connect with Peers
Connecting with peers who understand the unique challenges of being a first responder can provide a sense of community and support. Peer support groups, such as those offered by Deer Hollow, allow individuals to share their experiences and emotions in a safe, non-judgmental environment. This connection can reduce feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging.
You may be able to connect with peers and helpful specialists at trainings that focus on overcoming stigmas and shame that often come with being a first responder. At these events, not only can you meet peers that are in a similar situation as you, you can grow your support group and learn strategies to improve your life. Deer Hollow offers trainings for first responders across
the country, which are no-cost to agencies and attendees. For more information on these trainings, send an inquiry here.
Setting boundaries can help first responders separate their work and personal lives. This can include turning off work-related notifications during off-hours, taking breaks during shifts, and prioritizing time with loved ones. Setting boundaries can prevent burnout and improve overall well-being.
Seek Professional Help
It’s essential to seek professional help if you (or a loved one) are experiencing stress-related symptoms that interfere with regular life. This could present as continual sadness, apathy, constant anger, alcohol or substance abuse, or other ways.
Mental health counseling and therapy can help responders cope with the trauma and stress associated with their job. Licensed and well-equipped clinicians can help clients work through addiction, depression, PTSD, and more. A clinician can assist with a one-time event (e.g. an especially traumatic call), or regular difficulties that a job presents.
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and a step towards a happier, healthier life.
Get Help With First Responder Wellness
If you or someone you know is a first responder struggling with mental health or addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Deer Hollow Recovery for help. Our team of clinicians has substantial experience assisting first responders with anxiety, behavioral addictions, PTSD, cumulative stress, and substance abuse. We apply the most comprehensive treatments and therapies to help first responders heal from the trauma of their profession. First Responders can feel secure knowing Deer Hollow is confidential, safe, and private.