Uniformed service personnel and first responders are, of course, trained to respond quickly in highly traumatic circumstances. An average police officer, for example, will experience 188 critical incidents in their career . The focus and hypervigilance needed for these jobs, combined with the trauma that accumulates over time, can naturally build up stress and anxiety.
Now add a pandemic on top of that, with over 100,000 drug overdoses in the U.S. for the first time ever, along with increased illness and death, both in general and within the first responder community. And ever-changing protocols. And financial uncertainties. And simply not knowing when the light is coming at the end of the tunnel.
It all adds up to anxiety, anger, PTSD, increased early retirements (putting even more burden on those left), and of course, drugs and alcohol, which people commonly turn to in order to cope with the always-on demands of the job. But often, those coping methods work until they don’t. And then, hypervigilance can give way to paranoia and suspicion, rather than a calmed mind.
If any of this feels familiar to you or someone you love, the experts at the Rosecrance Florian Program for uniformed service personnel want you to know two things: First, there’s hope out there. Second, there are ways for you to get help from people who know what you’re going through as a first responder.
Sometimes it can be as simple as a conversation with someone you trust. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving yourself permission to help yourself using the skills you already have. But make a connection and reach out, because silence is the real killer when it comes to mental health and substance use issues.
If you know a first responder, including yourself, who is experiencing any mental health or substance use issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, take a listen to series 4, episode 2 of the Rosecrance podcast “On Your Radar,” which covers the unique and intense impact of the pandemic on first responders.
Download “On Your Radar: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on First Responders” series 4, episode 2, HERE.