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First responders face mental health challenges

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics face some difficult situations on an almost-daily basis. This can take a toll on their mental health, but this isn't widely discussed. Instead, it is almost a taboo subject.

This field of work is associated with a high rate of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and substance abuse. Often, the employers aren't doing enough to help these workers cope with the things they deal with on a daily basis.

A complex situation

Not only do these first responders have to see catastrophic injuries and deal with death each shift, they also face other risks that make the chance of them suffering from mental health challenges. They work long shifts, sometimes multi-day ones, and can only sleep when they aren't responding to a call. Despite the fatigue, they are forced to make split-second and often life-impacting decisions. Any missteps can lead to complications that claim a life or lead to a dire situation.

Never-ending stress

Many other professions don't have the never-ending stress that first responders face. This can lead to their amygdala becoming hyperactive. This is the area of the brain that deals with emotional processes. When a person has to continually deal with catastrophic stimuli, the brain begins to store the memories in a vivid fashion, which makes them problematic when the person experiences a trigger.

As time progresses, the medic's brain will begin to perceive danger when there is none. There is no easy way to stop this. Eventually, the mental health challenges become so great that they feel as though there is no option for coping with it.

Finding ways to help

First responders usually can't just stop dealing with catastrophic circumstances. Providing them with time off and counseling when they feel overwhelmed can help. Employers can also institute protocol that takes a proactive approach to gruesome situations. This can include a plan that encourages these workers to ask for help before the situation becomes dire.

A response program can include debriefings to discuss how everyone is handling things. As part of this, it must be made clear that nobody is weak for asking for help. There shouldn't be any berating when a first responder expresses their need to take care of their mental health. This can reduce the stigma that comes with mental health conditions.

Some medics might need to get help through workers' compensation. This can provide them with the medical care, partial paid time off and other benefits that enable them to cope with the mental stress while still being able to support themselves.

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