Peer support the key to helping first responders through job stress

A special camaraderie often forms among first responders during long days filled with trauma. When the work stress becomes difficult to handle, however, these individuals may struggle to find healthy ways to decompress away from colleagues, and that can lead to an increased tendency toward mental health or substance use disorders.

That is why specialized programs like the Rosecrance Florian Program have become important since it launched in 2014. These offerings recognize first responders’ unique needs when seeking help and provide a healing environment designed to offer support through colleagues who understand the rigors of life on the front lines.

Peer support with other first responders is vital to the Florian Program’s success. Clients regularly interact with active and retired colleagues who have completed the program. In addition, all of the staff have worked in the uniformed services or have close family members in these professions.

“These are very capable individuals you want in any emergency, but it’s tough because they experience more trauma than most people,” said Rosecrance Florian Program Director Dan DeGryse, who served the Chicago Fire Department for over 30 years. “We know that there is a trust factor with first responders. They have learned through professional experiences and training like boot camp to trust the person next to them with their life. It’s the same with treatment—they heal best when surrounded by peers going through the same thing.”

Resilience is another foundational element to treatment. By recognizing clients’ success in life and building on their strengths, staff build trust that enables life transformation to take place. As a result, almost all clients return to careers on the front lines with fresh perspectives on life and the practical skills to handle inevitable stress in positive ways. This also leads to restored relationships with family and friends.

“Clients often wonder how they got to this low point in life, but we want them to understand how strong they are to recognize where they could have done things differently,” DeGryse said. “It’s just a matter of teaching healthy skills they didn’t have before. When they learn a new approach to life, they naturally respond to the recovery journey with the same positive focus that makes them excellent professionals.”