While first responders excel at preventing harm, rescuing people and giving medical treatment during traumatic incidents and accidents, these everyday heroes rarely seek help to combat the emotional toll this occupation can have on their own mental health.
St. Luke’s is addressing this issue by launching a program that provides support and therapy for first responders who suffer on-the-job post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma- related side-effects.
This service offers symptom evaluation, communication and coping skills training, medication management and a variety of therapies, provided by psychiatrists and therapists both virtually and in person.
A first responder may experience mounting symptoms of emotional burnout such as fatigue, depression, sleep problems, guilt, anger and more if they don’t have coping skills or receive some kind of mental health therapy, says Dr. James James, vice chairman of behavioral health for St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) and founder of this new treatment resource and outreach program.
“Recent research suggests that, in extreme cases, emergency medical services (EMS) workers and other first responders are at a higher risk for suicide compared to the general public.”
“Sometimes, a single incident, or repeated exposures to horrific situations, can erode a rescuer’s emotional resilience if not addressed,” he said. The St. Luke’s program was started after James learned from several first responders that few local resources exist to help this group, and when they do, first responders rarely access them.
John Semonich, St. Luke’s EMS liaison, longtime paramedic and collaborator with James, said working long hours and multiple jobs, witnessing on-the-job trauma and violence and the don’t-discuss-it culture among first responders can create an unhealthy mix.