Throughout this journey I’ve had many opportunities to discuss with other 1st responders various topics and issues relating to mental health in the greater 1st responder community. I’ve made notable comments and taken positions on some of these issues.
1ST RESPONDER SUICIDES “And yet another......... I've said it before and will say it again.....So long as we, as a society, as emergency services organizations keep doing what we're doing, it's my opinion that 1st responder deaths by suicide will continue. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. We continually say “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” but those who choose suicide didn’t reach out. Many of the sufferers I have networked with have also said they didn’t reach out. I didn't reach out. Regardless of whether it was because of stigma or something else, the point is they didn’t reach out. Instead of standing on the shore watching someone drown in a pond of water and saying to them “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” perhaps its time that we proactively reach in. As rescuers we eventually go into that water to make the rescue. Why do we not do the same thing when someone is drowning from PTSD/Depression/Anxiety?? I ask a very simple question......so just how is what we are currently doing working ....it's not!!”
LEADERSHIP ON MENTAL HEALTH "I agree there is a fundamental change underway surrounding mental health as more people speak up and speak out and the more 1st responder suicides come to the forefront of media attention but I don't see a corresponding fundamental change at the top where leadership on this issue truly matters. There are other influencing factors that are roadblocks to people at the top evolving from just being administrators to being actual leaders. There is the odd one but the change that is happening from the bottom up is occurring much faster then the change from the top down”
EXPERT PANELS “Experts.......nothing like lived experience to make one an expert. No disrespect to the well intentioned educated "experts" but unless you have ridden a police car, fire truck, ambulance, military vehicle or secured societies most hardened criminals all you are is book smart. It goes back to the old cliche...unless you have walked in my boots you will never truly understand. When it comes to mental health lived experience means everything !!”
THE "JUST REACH OUT" PHRASE WE ALWAYS HEAR “I would add that getting our respective organizations to accept and therefore acknowledge without the typical platitudes things like... 1) yes 1st responder suicides is a crisis and are as equally an organizational priority as physical injuries are 2) the shear number of 1st responder suicides makes it an organizations problem not an individuals problem 3) sanctuary trauma does exist and does have an impact on an OSI sufferer and in many cases only makes the issues worse 4) because IT IS an organizational problem, when you say "just reach out" you are putting the onus on the individual for the solution to an organizational problem and not on the organization where it belongs (see #2) 5) because it is an organizational problem a proactive approach by the organization is required”
1ST RESPONDER MINDSET “As a 1st responder, you can't walk through water and not get wet, you can't walk through a sewer and not come out smelling like shit and you can't go through a career as a 1st responder doing the things that we do, seeing the things that we see and experiencing the things that we experience and not be affected in some way. There is no shame in that. The problem is the 1st responder mindset is challenged to genuinely accept that because it is never about us, its always about them, the members of our communities that we have sworn to protect and sacrifice ourselves for.”
IMPACT OF PANDEMIC ON 1ST RESPONDER MENTAL HEALTH "While I can't speak on behalf of all 1st responders, I can tell you we all share a couple of common traits, we are all "mission specific" and we all "put the needs of others ahead of our own needs". As a firefighter I can honestly say that I am willing to risk my life in situations that are marginally in my favour if it means being able to make a difference in somebody's life. " "What that means is that in extremely difficult situations that do impact us (1st responders), be it a traumatic emergency incident or continual and repeated exposure to human suffering and death, that almost every 1st responder will bury the emotions and feelings not as a coping mechanism but to be able to actually do the job and satisfy that "mission". As a 1st responder there is no way that I would be able to do my job and do it well as society expects me to do it, if I actually allowed myself to feel the emotions and feelings that those we are serving actually felt. Can you imagine being a 1st responder having to do CPR on an infant AND feeling the emotions that the parents are feeling. We wouldn't be able to do the job expected of us. Where the problem arises is that for many 1st responders those emotions and feelings stay buried and are never properly processed and dealt with hence the increased rates of PTSD/Depression/Anxiety in 1st responders." "So how does all this relate to the current COVID-19 pandemic and 1st responders. They will continue to heroically do their jobs, to focus on the "mission" and to "put the needs of others ahead of their own needs" and for some, they will pay a mental health price for it later down the road. The one thing that will help all 1st responders is that the significant stress of working through a pandemic is not an isolated incident or an individual incident that one or a few 1st responders is experiencing but an incident that ALL 1st responders are experiencing. While each individuals response to a stressful event is unique to them, there is some truth to the phrase that "there is strength in numbers" and I suspect that many 1st responders will draw on that collective strength to help them through these challenging times."