Mental Health and The First Responder – Part 2

February 2, 2022

Try to imagine having a job where you know there is a distinct possibility you could be killed while doing your job. Imagine that your job description requires you to transport the dead bodies of community members to the medical examiner’s office. Imagine arriving on the scene of a drive-by shooting where a child has been shot in the head. You get blood on your shirt and pants as you transport the child to the nearest hospital, only to discover your efforts weren’t enough. Imagine going to a home because there is an unusual odor coming from the location, and you discover there is a decomposing body you must stay with until a representative from the medical examiner’s office arrives. These scenarios are not made up, they are real situations police officers and firefighters experience on a regular basis.

Traumatic Events and The First Responder

The job of police officers and firefighters requires being exposed to the most horrific occurrences in society. A lengthy career of being exposed to traumatic event after traumatic event can take its toll on the mental health of any first responder. Constant exposure to traumatic events can contribute to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, insomnia, or living in a hyper-vigilant state continuously, which is unhealthy. According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to trauma can affect brain function in healthy people several years after [the traumatic] event. Imagine the toll a lengthy career in law enforcement may be having on first responders everywhere.

A Call for Officer Wellness

It is vital that first responders understand it is paramount that they be healthy mentally. Police officers are the individuals we call upon for help, safety, protection, and in times of trouble. First responders will find themselves in situations requiring split second, life or death decisions that can ultimately affect their lives, and the lives of others. When first responders take care of themselves, they are in a sense, taking care of us. Resmaa Menakem, author of “My Grandmother’s Hands,” states “Many law-enforcement professionals live day after day with the chemicals of chronic stress in their bloodstreams. This is bad for your body, sometimes traumatic, and occasionally tragic” (Menakem, 2017). My desire is for all first responders to invest in themselves by investing in their mental health. I believe every first responder should invest in an on-going professional relationship with a mental health professional.

First responders deserve to be healthy. Families of first responders deserve to have happy, healthy dads, moms, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, etc. First responders, invest in yourselves right now because the life you save may be your own!

Mark Goodson, DA is a Staff Therapist at our University City and Wynnewood Offices; he currently sees clients via online therapy. To set-up an appointment, you can reach him at mgoodson@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 7012.

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