First Responders and All That it Comes With

First Responders and All That it Comes With
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Today, we will hear from Alexia Eller, LMSW, who has spent several years of her career as a first responder and working alongside first responders and serving in crime victim services. She will share her unique insights into the challenge, trauma, and needs of the first responder community. 

Being a first responder, a police officer, a paramedic, a firefighter, an emergency medical service employee, a dispatcher, or another position, can be extremely stressful. As someone who works closely with first responders, I have seen these challenges firsthand. Many try to keep up the appearance of being fine, not bothered by what they see day in and day out, but when something strikes them differently or they feel safe enough to let a wall down, there is often more beneath the surface. 

Police and EMS trauma

According to SAMHSA, over 30 percent of first responders develop mental health conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI, which is similar to the commonly known PSTD diagnosis) and that is only those in that field have reported experiencing mental health symptoms. Post-traumatic stress responses are experienced by those who experience shock from a horrific event or a tragedy accompanied by an emotional or physical reaction.

There is no specific time frame for how long this condition can last, it could be a week, several months, or even years, if it goes untreated it may have a longer-lasting impact. The onset of symptoms could differ from immediate or not develop until long after the trauma. Some symptoms can range from intrusive thoughts or images, vivid flashbacks or nightmares, trouble sleeping, overwhelming guilt or shame, self-destructive behavior, etc. The list can go on, but it doesn’t have to if you seek help. 

Remember, that working in the field of public safety, it is not “if” you come across a critical or traumatic event but a matter of “when.” When you respond to this incident, it places you at risk of experiencing PTSI, depression, negative coping skills or self-destructing behaviors, and possibly suicidal ideation. 

As mentioned above, someone who is impacted by traumatic events in a career may likely endure some level of trauma symptoms during their time in service. While we cannot prevent trauma from occurring, we can work together to prevent the impact from becoming Post traumatic stress, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders.

Here are some preventative and proactive tactics that can help ease the trauma:

  • Disclose the trauma to a colleague or someone you trust.

  • Surround yourself with family and friends.

  • Discuss other ways that help others through their healing process.

  • Find what positive coping skills work for you and implement them in your routine. 

  • Affirm yourself that what you experienced is not you and “I will get better.”

  • Find a therapist who has experience working with first responders in some form or fashion and talk to them about what may be hard for others to hear. 

police trauma therapy

You allow yourself to be in unpredictable and uncomfortable situations all the time for work because “you have to” or “it’s my job, I signed up for it.” But what about allowing yourself to tread into the uncharted territory of possible symptoms you may be experiencing and normalize that it is okay to express getting help? 

First responders are a different breed of humans.  they witness and experience things others can’t imagine. In my experience of working with first responders and being a part of a department, I know there is a community of peers who support you and want you to be okay. Some may not express it on the outside, they may cut up with gallows humor, yuck up between calls, or stay quiet when they can catch a lunch break, but it’s a community of people who care. 

Dedicate some time for yourself to express yourself in a manner you may not feel so inclined around supervisors or others because you don’t want to appear “weak.” So try it out, find a therapist and see if it’s something you are interested in. Many first responders I have worked with find it helpful in the long run to have someone in their corner as they navigate through their careers with traumatic events. 

By: Alexia Eller, LMSW

And if you are interested in learning more about therapy services and how a trained therapist may be able to equip you with skills to manage anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and more, we are here to help! Let our team partner with you in reaching new levels of health. We have online therapy services available as well as in-person therapy options at our Arlington, TX-based therapy office.

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