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First Responders

At Cathy Nagy Psychology we understand the unique issues that our first responders face, not only in their day to day exposure to society’s most challenging situations, but also within the culture of their peers, supervisors, and the larger entity of their respective employers.
You may see aspects of yourself or your loved one in the following questions:
  • Are you just not feeling like yourself anymore?  Are you moody?  Feeling down, irritable, or just totally “checked out”?
  • Do you feel burnt out, or find that you’ve lost the desire to go to work or attend calls?
  • Are you turning to things like alcohol or drugs to “take the edge off” at the end of a shift?
  • Do you notice that your perspective on life, society, or your employer is more negative?
  • Are you experiencing increased difficulties in your personal life?

If you recognize any or all of the above in yourself or someone you know, getting connected with a mental health professional may be the next step to protecting your well-being.

How psychotherapy can help

We know that first responders are highly trained professionals whose primary job is to ride towards the conflict and danger that most others would run away from, and that both their personal and professional lives are often negatively affected by the high degree of stress they face.   They may feel that the people in their lives will be unable to understand what they have gone through or fear they are burdening their loved ones by talking about the painful things they have witnessed. As a result, they may close themselves off and become distant, resulting in a significant negative impact on relationships with spouses, children, friends and other close family members.

Heavy stress may lead to burnout, which can impact job performance and contribute to an overall negative outlook, both in terms of their career and their personal life.

Many first responders may also experience resentment and anger as a result of what is referred to as “sanctuary trauma”, which occurs following a traumatic exposure when an individual expects to be supported and protected, but only is faced with more trauma.   These additional traumas are often experienced through actions of peers or the employer which can lead to a perception that they have been betrayed by those who were meant to stand beside them.

Research has consistently shown that the routine and often daily cumulative exposure to traumatic situations that first responders face can place them at a higher risk for the development of mental health difficulties which can commonly include:

  • Emotional difficulties such as feelings of depression and/or anxiety
  • Lack of motivation to go to work and/or engage in activities
  • Increase in use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Marital/relationship conflict or divorce
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Negative or jaded view of the world, people, and the employer
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Withdrawal or isolation from others, feeling “numb”
  • Agitation or aggression

Post Traumatic Stress

When persistent and lingering difficulties are left unmanaged, individuals can develop more serious and longer lasting mental health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress. With our first responder population, we view the development of post trauma symptoms as an Operational Stress Injury. Symptoms of this kind of injury may include individuals’ experiencing intrusive memories about calls or events that have occurred in the line of duty.

They may also have flashbacks, nightmares, or persistent fears related to these events. They may feel physical tension or agitation, emotional numbness, and a desire to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic events. Substance abuse, depression, and suicide are other mental health issues particularly relevant to first responders struggling with Post Traumatic Stress.

How therapy can help

Some first responders may be reluctant to seek help, partially due to the expectations of society that the people in these professions are heroes who are always strong and tough, both mentally and physically. These sentiments are also often perpetuated within the culture of peers of the first responder community.

Unfortunately, because many people still view mental health concerns as a sign of weakness, it may lead first responders to deny the presence of any issue and avoid seeking help, due in part, to a fear of being judged for their "weakness", and having it potentially impact their future career.

When first responders are proactive about their mental health and are able to establish a relationship with a trained professional prior to the development of any significant symptoms, it is more likely that serious mental health issues can be avoided.

It also leads to better outcomes when first responders reach out for help immediately following a traumatic event in the line of duty. Even when symptoms have lingered for a longer period of time, with therapy, there can be a reduction of symptoms and a return to usual functioning both at work and at home.

Get in Touch

At CN Psychology, our focus is on building resilience, reducing stigma and building partnerships and support networks within the first responder culture.

Consider taking care of your mental health as part of your job. We can help.