Police officers, firefighters, military personnel, paramedics and other first responders are trained to be calm in the face of chaos, but the amount of stress and trauma they experience on a daily basis isn’t just “part of the job.” It adds up over time, and the effects can be devastating.
We count on first responders to be sober and in control, but they are the very people who are most vulnerable to slipping into a cycle of isolation, avoidance and addiction due to work-related trauma.
Common Mental Health Issues Among First Responders
Exposure to images most of us can’t fathom—-violence, accidents, injury and destruction–and working long shifts alongside people who are also grappling with stress and trauma take a toll. First responders often turn to substances to self-medicate, which only exacerbates mental health issues.
Common mental health disorders that affect first responders include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance abuse
- Co-occurring disorders
First responders experience significantly higher rates of mental illness, including substance abuse, addiction and, in particular, suicide. According to one study of approximately 4,000 EMS workers published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 37% of respondents had contemplated suicide, and 6.6% had attempted suicide. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation reports that a fire department is three times more likely to experience a suicide in any given year than a death in the line of duty.
The transition into retirement is an especially vulnerable time. It can reveal underlying mental health or substance use disorders that were previously covered up while the former first responder was working in the field.
Overcoming the Stigma
Although society as a whole has made great strides in discussing mental health more candidly in recent years, there is still a considerable stigma surrounding the topic in a field where people are expected to be tough and resilient. Many first responders who are struggling with mental health or substance use disorders are apprehensive to acknowledge their need for treatment or that their symptoms may be interfering with their ability to do their job. Given that a first responder’s duty is put others’ needs before their own, it’s easy to understand why.
It’s unfortunate that stigma could prevent someone from getting the help they deserve, because addiction can be overcome and mental health disorders can be managed with a combination of therapy and medication.
Hemet Valley Recovery Center offers a dedicated program for first responders. We can steer you or someone you love toward the path to recovery with a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation and individualized treatment plan that connects clients with the most effective mental health and addiction treatment services based on their needs. We also believe that treatment for mental health and substance use disorders should be accessible to all, which is why we accept a wide range of insurances, including Medicare and Tri-Care.
Contact HVRC to verify your benefits and learn more about our services.