Throughout our lives, we are taught the importance of our physical health through means of eating well-rounded meals, exercising daily, and hydrating often. We spend countless hours training to improve our physical fitness but neglect to work on our mental health. Unfortunately for many people, the perceived social stigma surrounding therapy and counselling makes it difficult to take this next step. While there’s an obvious stigma and hesitation amongst the general population, it’s even more apparent in the lives of first responders.
There is no doubt that firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and others on the front line must carry out plenty of tasks throughout their day that are both physically and mentally overwhelming and exhausting. However, it is important to remember that in the same way that working out in the gym can provide physical benefits, there are numerous barriers associated with seeking support for their mental health and well-being.
With the growing number of first responders being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, there is a need for counselling to be prioritized. Throughout this article, we explore the stigma surrounding mental health in first responders, their hesitations around seeking support, and the benefits that counselling provides.
First responders are often seen as superheroes in the public eye. They uphold an image of being both physically and emotionally resilient to anything that comes their way while assisting all those who require help and support even in the most dangerous of moments. With such high expectations from their community, many first responders feel the need to remain calm under pressure at all times. Unlike your average person, if a first responder makes one mistake at work or is “mentally off”, it can lead to detrimental outcomes. There is no doubt that this pressure can impact a person’s mental health over time, as well as create hesitation in these workers reaching out for counselling support.
One of the main reasons first responders avoid seeking help is due to the immense stigma surrounding mental health. There’s a preconceived idea that reaching out for support is tied to “weakness” when in reality, it’s a sign of strength and self-awareness. Rather than seeking support through counselling, many first responders resort to suppressing their thoughts and emotions. This can lead to elevated feelings of isolation and loneliness which can exacerbate their symptoms even further.
In many cases, discussing mental health problems with your colleagues is simply not possible or comfortable. Some people worry that discussing PTSD, anxiety, or depression with someone who is struggling may cause more harm than good and it is common that even friends on the job are hesitant to say the wrong thing or create more of an issue. Instead, no one speaks up.
Seeking counselling support can be difficult when your job gives you limited time off, places you in remote locations that lack accessibility to services, and occasionally limited benefits. These barriers, among other things, may be limiting factors towards first responders seeking the counselling support they need. In addition, there may be a lack of awareness of mental health supports that workers can access, or why these services may be beneficial.
Specialized therapy for first responders is necessary to encourage success throughout the course of the counselling sessions. Based on the specific culture, social norms, and mindset of first responders, it’s important that the therapist thoroughly understands you in a way to provide you with meaningful support. Some beneficial types of therapy for first responders include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy.
Below are 3 major benefits specialized counselling can provide to first responders:
Living with any kind of mental illness can be a life-altering experience. Having to find new ways to manage symptoms more productively may be a completely foreign experience. It’s okay to feel uncertain or overwhelmed. Regardless if you’ve been diagnosed or not, counselling is a great tool to help you learn healthier coping strategies for your day-to-day life.
In the efforts to manage symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression, counselling helps you become more proactive and recognize the stressors in your life before they become a trigger. By giving you the ability to establish a stable, dependable routine and stop the use of destructive habits (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.) you can take back more control in your life.
It’s very common for the intricacies of your work life to affect your home and personal life. As a first responder, you’re likely to have unique challenges that others never have to deal with. This struggle to balance work, family, and friendships can lead to a breakdown in communication at home.
Counselling helps repair relationships and enables you to develop better communication with your partner, kids, family, and friends. We offer specialized counselling for first responders that target these unique challenges. For example, managing PTSD symptoms around your children can be a considerable challenge. Counselling can help you communicate appropriately with your children without leaving them feeling confused, frightened, or upset.
Lastly, counselling helps you to overcome life's greatest challenges by guiding you through feelings of being “stuck” when faced with roadblocks. One of the most meaningful tools that therapy sessions can provide you is the confidence and reassurance that you’re able to conquer anything that stands in the way of your path. Whether that means fighting the urge to reach for a drink after a stressful day or getting out of the house without the fear of having a panic attack, counselling can empower you to take the next step.
Seeking counselling support is a healthy decision to assist you as you work through unique challenges associated with your career. No matter if you’re working through high-stress situations, family issues, or finding a healthy balance in your life, we would be delighted to get to know you better. It’s important to note that you are never burdening your counsellor by sharing aspects of your work. Simply inquire with a trusted member of our team for more information.
Written by Laura Anderson, MA MSW, RSW