First Responder Mental Health Care
As the first people on the scene of the worst moments of our lives, first responders work hard to offer us relief and reassurance as they take charge of a situation to keep us safe. Whether fighting to put out a raging fire, protecting us from criminal activity or administering medical care in the field, the men and women who hold these positions are there when we need them most. Considering the level of trauma a person is exposed to while working as a first responder, mental health care is a critical consideration that requires a unique approach for these heroes.
Why First Responder Mental Health Needs Are Different
First responders are tasked with initial contact in a variety of emergencies and are expected to take quick action to assess and respond in the moment. These professionals are often called out to scenes that expose them to significant human suffering and loss, sometimes at great personal risk to themselves, and require them to make life-or-death decisions. The high-stress nature of the job, coupled with regular exposure to trauma, puts them at high risk for mental health struggles that could lead to unhealthy coping strategies.
A report released in 2018 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHA) breaks down the disproportionate mental health issues found in EMS professionals, firefighters and police officers:
- Studies show first responders are at significantly higher risk for depression, especially following response to large-scale emergencies.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is prevalent in all first responder types, with rates increasing for those who respond to large-scale events.
- A 2012 literature review showed that stress and exhaustion contribute to more than 50% of firefighter deaths.
- Around 50% of firefighters admit turning to substance abuse to cope with job-related trauma.
- A study on the suicide risks of firefighters found that almost half experienced suicidal ideation, with just over 15% estimated to have made an attempt.
- One study reviewed found that a person working as a firefighter and EMS provider was 6 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than someone who was limited to firefighting duties.
- Some studies showed suicide attempt rates of over 50% for police officers and linked job strain and burnout as important risk factors.
It’s clear that working as a first responder carries substantial risks to a person’s mental health, but it’s also important to note the cumulative effect this can have. Depression, PTSD and substance abuse can affect critical decisions during future high-stress events and negatively impact outcomes. These experiences can further traumatize the first responder, worsening their mental health crisis and leading to more extreme coping methods.
What Specialized Treatment for First Responders Looks Like
First responders need a targeted treatment approach to address the unique and repeated challenges they face in their profession. For many, workplace cultures that choose not to prioritize mental health care can be difficult to navigate, requiring assistance from an outside source. For a treatment plan to work, it should highlight issues with depression, PTSD, substance abuse and suicidal ideation, since these are the most common mental health issues faced by first responders. Mental health professionals who work with these groups should have knowledge of the common issues they face and be prepared to work through the established trauma of past experiences while teaching healthy coping skills to navigate future emergencies.
How Treatment Can Help
If you’re a first responder who’s struggling with substance abuse, depression or PTSD due to your experiences on the job, help is available. Catching these issues early offers the greatest opportunity for recovery and can help prevent impact severity, so it’s important to prioritize your mental health by seeking help from trained professionals.
Although there are many mental health programs available, finding one that offers a targeted treatment approach that’s specialized in your specific care needs will offer the greatest benefit. Your job exposes you to a unique set of stressors on a regular basis, combined with the pressures of your team’s culture and your personal and professional values. A first responder therapist who’s trained to recognize the distinctive triggers associated with your profession will be best equipped to help you navigate your recovery and arm you with the tools you need to continue your work with healthy coping strategies.
Our first responder program was developed to combine evidence-based therapies and medical care with an overall wellness program that targets the obstacles first responders face. We help you face obstacles specific to your needs and manage your responses in healthy ways during times of stress. Therapists within the program are trained to handle the multifaceted challenges that come with emergency response, while our medical team can address the underlying issues contributing to any substance abuse problems to further customize your care plan.
As you undergo psychological and medical treatment to improve your mental health, you’ll also have access to our peer-support group model, connecting you with other first responder patients who share similar experiences. Accepting support from your professional peers can help you progress to a healthier state of mind.
Our Levels of Care
First responder treatment is available to you through all levels of our continuum of care. These levels are defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) as:
- Level 1, Outpatient Services: First responders may receive treatment as scheduled without the requirement to live on-site, though housing can be provided if needed. Patients are free to engage in their normal daily activities and manage treatment attendance on their own. This is most appropriate for those who are in the earliest stages of mental health decline.
- Level 2, Intensive Outpatient (IOP) or Partial Hospitalization (PHP): Therapies and treatments are intensified to address progressed mental health issues that still don’t meet the residential requirement threshold.
- Level 3, Residential/Inpatient Services: This is the highest level of care, requiring on-site residency and 24/7 supervision. Therapies are scheduled throughout the day, allowing patients to focus entirely on their recovery. This level is an option for those who are experiencing co-occuring mental health conditions and may be a risk to themselves or others.
Once the treatment plan is completed, our first responder program offers continuing support through our Alumni and Aftercare program. You’ll have access to all our alumni services, group meetings and individual therapy sessions as needed.
Unique Features of Our Program
Not all treatment programs are created equal. At Restore Mental Health, we understand our first responders deserve the best treatment options available. Although we employ a variety of progressive therapies and medical interventions to help you on your recovery journey, two unique features really set us apart.
Restore Mental Health offers first responders the benefit of a comprehensive neurological assessment using neuroimaging to identify areas of the brain that may be physically affected by their mental health conditions. This process can alleviate the shame a patient feels for struggling with their mental health while allowing our team to more effectively customize your treatment plan. The result is a speedier and more complete recovery.
First Responder Peer Community
No one understands the struggles you face more than those who share your experiences in the line of duty. That’s why we have created a community of your peers to work with through your recovery. Evidence shows first responders are more likely to open up about their experiences to other first responders, giving you the best chance of completing your program and returning to your life and work.
Seek Help Now
As a first responder, you’ve dedicated your professional life to saving others when they’re in greatest need. The best way to offer your full support to the people you’ve sworn to protect is to take care of yourself so you’ll be ready the next time someone’s life depends on your skills. If you find yourself struggling with depression, PTSD, addiction or thoughts of suicide, call us today at (877) 594-3566 to find out how our first responder program can help you get back on track. You’ve always been there when we’ve needed you — maybe now it’s time for us to return the favor.