How do we protect those that protect us? Most people don’t realize that first responders are three times more likely to die by suicide than injuries incurred on duty. Responding to emergencies and disasters is both rewarding and challenging work. On a daily basis, police officers, firemen and health care workers don’t know what situation they are walking into. Stress for emergency responders may include witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from family with many long work hours.
When we think of a traumatic event, we think of death or disaster but in truth a traumatic event is different for every person. What may bother one person another person may never think of again. Imagine having a job that deals with traumatic events all day every day. At some point many first responders wind up in a situation that triggers them to experience the event as traumatic to them as well.
Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation. They can not help others if they can not relax and stay mentally present during the crisis. How do you do this? Well, mental health challenges looks different on each person affected. Signs to look for:
- Excessive worry occurring more days than not
- Feeling down or depressed most days
- Feeling restless
- Frequently feeling tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Diminished interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty with sleep (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Recurrent thoughts of death over at least a two-week period
Here are some great ways to relieve stress and anxiety:
Exercise at least 20 minutes per day. There is actual evidence that exercise can and will increase your mood. Try to eat a healthy diet. Stick to a routine. Having a routine not only gives you sense of purpose but regulates your sleep and eating. Try to avoid alcohol which makes you more depressed and does not solve your problem anyway. Keep in touch with family and friends. Being with others increases your mood but also gives you someone to talk to if you start feeling depressed and overwhelmed.
It’s best to talk to a professional health care provider when:
- You find it difficult to function in your daily life
- You no longer participate in activities you once enjoyed
- You find it difficult to get out of bed
If you feel like you have no where to turn and no one to talk to and think life is not worth living, there is always someone to talk too at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. They are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week and offer free and confidential support to those in crisis. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.