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Caring for First Responders

First responderIn response to the recent events in Las Vegas, our attention immediately turns to helping the victims and their families. However, there is another group that needs our attention and care: first responders. These men and women have also endured trauma, pain and suffering, therefore caring for them becomes paramount.

Emergency first responders act fast and provide assistance in large scale tragedies, but there are also first responders in our own backyards that deal with other types of tragedies, such as witnessing an overdose death, a fatal car accident, a shooting, a fire, etc.  Most recently our first responders in WNY are dealing with the tragic death of Officer Craig E. Lehner. While it’s a first reponder’s job to remain calm under pressure, these men and women also need to process their stress, emotions, and deal with the trauma.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests “stress for emergency responders may include witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from family.” Similar to victims, first responders need to focus on stress prevention and management, in order to be prepared to act efficiently when trauma occurs.

Types of Stress Management Techniques

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Regular journaling (both writing and drawing)
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Daily exercise
  • Meditation and yoga practices

Even with practicing healthy daily habits to reduce stress, many first responders may experience a burnout feeling at some point. According to the CDC, sadness, depression, and apathy could signal that a first responder is starting to become burnt out. Other signs include becoming easily aggravated, shifting blame, showing irritability, exhibiting a lack of feelings and showing a disconnection or isolation from others. Simply being tired and overwhelmed can lead to job stress as well.

Stress management skills include personal reflection of the experience, spending time with loved ones, and focusing on healthy living habits. Additionally, concentrating on repetitive daily tasks, such as paying bills, running errands and working in the yard, help people return to feeling normal.

Friends or family members of first responders may experience secondary traumatic stress. The CDC establishes that secondary traumatic stress “results from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.” Symptoms may include unnecessary worry or fear, increased anxiety, and sleeping problems.

Horizon Health Services provides professional counseling for first responders. Our team of compassionate therapists provides support and practical feedback to help first responders find resolutions and improve daily functioning. For more information about how we can help you or a loved one, please call us today at (716) 831-1800.