The Need to Create an Early Safety Net for First Responders
First responders are placed on the front line of danger every day. While their service is treasured in both one's communities and nationwide, it is still a dangerous line of work that leaves them prone to many different types of trauma.
Approaching one's job with the expectation of trauma can be dangerous. Being prepared for this possibility can actually promote a degree of safety when it comes to tackling the challenges that first responders face. However, creating this safety net ahead of time is complicated. There are multiple different factors to consider when developing one's personal safety net while still tending to the responsibilities of the active line of duty.
The Prevalence of Trauma
It is incredibly difficult to escape all of the different types of trauma that first responders face. Acknowledging that trauma is a very real and detrimental possibility for first responders is the first step in creating a better understanding of one's need for a feeling of safety. For some, running into burning buildings, confronting potentially armed and dangerous people, or heading onto the scene of natural disasters create a very real, tense, and overwhelming sense of trauma.
However, these are not the only ways that trauma can be felt. Vicariously seeing or hearing about injuries or fatalities can be a potent source of trauma, meaning one does not need to be on the scene of a tragic event to experience the traumatic nature of the job. Having an emotional safety net in place and ready can help each individual quickly begin to process these experiences. This can work to strengthen one's resilience while continuing to commit oneself to the protection of one's community.
Embracing the Need for a Safe Outlet
First responders are still people, and the need for safety and camaraderie is paramount. Stresses will continue to build if not provided with an effective outlet. While processing these emotions can be exceptionally difficult, there can be many destructive outcomes of bottling up these emotions and denying their expression.
The development of anxiety disorders, panic, depression, PTSD, or turning to the use of drugs or alcohol are common ways that one's stress may manifest if left on its own. Each of these outcomes can further complicate one's emotional state. This may lead to an increase in risky behavior, compromised decision-making, and even potentially opening one up to further traumas.
What Is a Safety Net?
A first responder's safety net is something that is wholly unique, but comprised of a few different elements. As one begins or continues their career as a first responder, being prepared for the potential dangers and damage to one's mental health is crucial. Some people may utilize supportive family members and friends to help create barriers between one's work and home life.
An example of this can include agreeing to not bring up work stresses at the dinner table. Others may establish rooms for self-care where one cannot be disturbed if it was a particularly stressful day. Some may approach their safety net by creating a constant flow of communication with friends and families outside of the professional sphere. Daily text messages, phone calls, or emails can help an individual further separate their personal and professional lives.
In other cases, individuals may preemptively find support communities for first responders or professional therapeutic facilities. Doing so can help to begin exploring the symptoms of trauma and establishing oneself in a safe sphere, in case traumatic experiences become difficult to process on one's own. One's safety net is a collection of trusted outlets they have consistent access to at any time, regardless of how they are feeling.
Deconstructing a Stigma
Not only is creating a safety net important for one's own mental and emotional health, but it is also a necessary practice for deconstructing the stigmas that surround words like “addiction” or “mental health.” Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of misinformation about these subjects in circulation, and one's communities may view reaching out for assistance on these fronts as some kind of admittance of weakness.
These fallacies can be hard to process, and one may fear the social and professional repercussions of reaching out for help. This can be especially scary when one's role as a first responder doubles as an image of strength and protection. However, reaching out to support groups, peers, and professionals can all work to destigmatize these notions.
Doing so can also normalize the practice of asking for help to process these traumatic events while validating and acknowledging one's feelings and experiences in the line of duty. This can ultimately help first responders continue to serve their communities while allowing them to treat themselves fairly and tend to their emotional needs.