First Responders are: Police officers, Firefighters, EMTs, 911 dispatchers, Emergency room personnel, and any one who provides on-site care to someone in need during an emergency.
A first responder commits suicide every 18 hours in the United States.
If you are in crisis:
- CopLine is an international, confidential hotline answered by experienced, retired police officers who know what it’s like to be in the line of duty. If you’re an officer struggling with work, or life, call us. You aren’t alone. You have someone to talk to.Call 1-800-COPLINE
- Contact P.I.S.T.L.E. at https://www.pistle.org/
- Contact Blue Help at https://bluehelp.org/ or
Lauren and Sarah both have experience working alongside Police and Firefighters on crisis teams with Phoenix (Lauren and Sarah) and Chandler (Lauren). Lauren is contracted with Compsych’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) specifically and exclusively for first responders, so there is usually no out of pocket cost to you.
Lauren was honored to share her skills in trauma work in 2018 and 2019 by volunteering with West Coast Post Trauma Retreat (click for more info).
When selecting a counselor, look for someone who has been trained specifically for the treatment of trauma in First Responders. We have extensive training in the specific needs of this population and how these job impacts physiology vastly differently from any others.
EMDR and other approaches will look different for first responders than for the civilian population. Someone who understands the culture, stressors of the job, and how it can impact your families is a critical part of successful therapy.
National studies have found that 37% (or higher) of firefighters and 30% (or higher) of Police officers meet criteria for PTSD, as compared to 3% of the civilian average.
First responders regularly suppress the brain’s automatic response system of fight/ flight or freeze/collapse. They literally “run in” while everyone else is “running out” of a dangerous situation. Shift work, being awakened by “tones,” and repeated first-hand exposure to dangerous, stressful, and traumatic events can cause cumulative damage to the nervous system and create thousands of unprocessed memories. This can result in “flashbacks” that look very different for a first responder than a civilian.
First responders “have to minimize the psychological and physical dangers of the job in order to be able to do it” (Adler-Tapia). This is done with defense mechanisms like compartmentalization and dissociation, which work great on the job, but not so well in personal lives. A counselor who understands the balance is important.
Common Psychological Defense Mechanisms used by 1st Responders include:
First Responders are expected to not be impacted by events. This results in humor that may seem cold/disrespectful to others.
First responders may experience an event, but feel like it is happening to someone else. It is a sense of detachment from others.
First responders may experience an event, but feel like it isn’t real.
For many, symptoms can be undetectable – sometimes presenting as only recurring headaches and sleep disturbance, a sense of irritability, or feeling detached.
Habitual use of these defenses can result in delayed PTSD (Adler-Tapia), which can lie dormant for years until any trigger (overt or innocuous) is encountered and suddenly, symptoms are noticed.
Betrayal trauma describes a situation in which the city, department, fellow workers, or family members did not support the individual who is exhibiting symptoms.
Due to the ongoing nature of a first responder’s job, “pinpointing” the exact traumatic even that “caused PTSD” can be difficult, if not impossible. Working with somebody who understands this and the cumulative effects of daily exposure to shootings, fire, deaths, accidents, domestic violence, and other disruptions is important in choosing a counselor.
Data from the University of Phoenix shows that only 39 percent of first responders with PTSD sought help because many fear negative repercussions. Your information is confidential.
We encourage (but do not require) family sessions in our work to help spouses and/ or children understand the nature of the injury to the nervous system and how they can be supportive.
For peer support, resources, advocacy and training for LEO, please visit P.I.S.T.L.E. : A peer support group run by cops for cops.
Spouses of First Responders may benefit from reading the following books:
- “I Love a Cop: What Police families need to know” by Ellen Kirschman
- “I Love a Fire Fighter: What the family needs to know” by Ellen Kirschman
- “Emotional survival for law enforcement: A guide for officers and their families” by Kevin M. Gilmartin
East Valley Trauma counseling does not do “Fit for Duty” evaluations and our work together is completely confidential.
For help with cost of sessions:
Compsych EAP 1-800-557-1005
Public Safety Crisis Solutions: 602-466-9456 or www.pscrisissolutions
Lauren is contracted with City of Mesa directly for work-related stress/ trauma injuries for fire and police. Contact your peer support specialist for more information or help (Mesa Fire Robert.Parechanian@mesaaz.gov
Mesa Police Department Jonathon.Appel@mesaaz.gov )