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It’s Our Turn to Respond to the Mental Health Needs of First Responders

When you put on a first responder uniform, you’re expected to be ”brave, strong and courageous – giving help and not asking for help,” said Jeff Dill, a retired firefighter. Corrections officers, police and firefighters are trained to recognize and deal with people with mental health and addiction disorders, but are ill prepared to respond to the pressures they face daily  (“’Giving Help and Not Asking for It’: Inside the Mental Health of First Responders,” Governing, July 7, 2017).

The stress of making life and death decisions daily, combined with extreme fatigue brought on by 48-hour shifts can take an emotional toll. The ability to talk about challenges and issues they may be experiencing is vital for the well-being of first responders. After seeing the kind of negative impact that Hurricane Katrina had on emergency response workers, Dill founded the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, a counseling service for firefighters.

But, he discovered, even when help is offered, it can be difficult for first responders to reach back.

Even with the protection of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA), a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can end a promising career. And, admitting that you have a mental health problem defies the long-established culture in many fire departments, police departments and prisons that frowns on showing “personal weakness.”

First responders are devoted to helping and providing support to the public. We must create a space for them to feel just as comfortable helping themselves. Through training in Mental Health First Aid, we can learn to recognize and use appropriate language responding to challenges first responders may be facing.

Let’s give back to first responders for everything they have given us. #BeTheDifference in the life of one of our heroes.