|By Safe Call Now's Dr. Laura Brodie|
Something that is not recognized by many in the civilian world is that our First Responders as a whole are more psychologically healthy than the general population at the time of hiring. How can I say this? Well, very few careers require the psychological screening and assessment that First Responders have to pass in order to obtain their job. In doing such a screening, the hope is to protect the public from someone who is unsafe, but the hidden benefit is to hopefully protect the individual doing the job from many of the psychological disorders that can develop from this type of work. So, if we use the premise that First Responders are more psychologically healthy than their civilian counterpart, why are we seeing the psychological problems we are seeing within First Responders? Problems like substance abuse, high divorce rates and suicide? Theoretically, this should not be happening, but it is rampant. Why?
Mental health professionals are very familiar with issues such as depression and have many tools in their therapeutic toolbox to help. What they are not nearly as educated in understanding is the environment of the First Responder and the issue of burnout. Research has shown that the leading cause of stress in First Responders is not the day to day rescues and arrests they perform. Those chores are why the individual signed up to do the job and there is clear understanding of those tasks through the academies and ongoing training. What is not spoken of is the organizational stress that is killing First Responders. Yes, it’s the slow, ongoing, and constant organizational stress that is doing more damage to our First Responders than any other factor within the job. As a professor, I have chaired several dissertations that have shown this stress and the gradual breakdown of the individual does not depend on the age, sex or rank of the individual. It appears that the seven-year mark is where the stress can eventually become the most significant issue for the individual and coping breaks down.
Organizational stress is from the departments and the fall out from the public. It is the gradual wearing down of the individual in all the tasks that have to be done to cover one’s posterior through paperwork, to handle the misconceptions and accusations of the media and public and the management of troops when management classes and courses are not offered as a way to help the individual learn how to manage. Moving up the ranks many times is based on how one does the First Responder job, not how one manages people. These are two different tasks and require a different set of people skills. Both the manager and those below are set up to fail in system that does not allow the training of management of personnel to be as important as the training to fire a weapon, put out a fire or rescue a trapped person. It is set up to fail.