Rosecrance strengthening first responders through pandemic pressures

Medic, paramedic, firefighter and police officer

First responders thrive on the adrenaline rush of high-pressure situations, but exposure to repeated trauma always has been a danger to these front-line heroes. Extra stress during the COVID-19 pandemic is taking an extra toll, however, as these heroes have lost much of their space to decompress away from the job.

The average police officer typically sees nearly 200 critical incidents in a career, while EMTs and other uniformed service personnel have cared for a record number of people who died from drug overdoses in the past year. In addition, law enforcement have been on the front lines of civil unrest and have been targets of violence in the Midwest and around the country.

“Our men and women in these professions want to respond, because that is what we do,” said Rosecrance Florian Program Director Dan DeGryse. “On a good day, our jobs have trauma that you can’t imagine, but now it is all around us all the time. There is no escape.”

As a result, anxiety and substance use are increasingly becoming concerns within the first responder community. Before the pandemic, a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation noted that first responders are about five times more likely than others to experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This likely has escalated in the past two years, along with more reliance on substances to relieve symptoms such as panic attacks and difficulty sleeping. In addition, the pace of retirement by professionals has increased, leaving fewer staff to respond to more calls.

To help first responders process trauma, DeGryse said connection was the key. Within organizations, that might mean leaders intentionally reaching out to staff, ready to listen. First responders also are encouraged to seek empathetic support from peers, religious leaders on staff, employee assistance professionals, or professional behavioral health organizations like Rosecrance that incorporate peer support into treatment.

Also, first responders are encouraged to decompress after each shift. Develop a routine to transition out of work mode before reengaging with family and friends.