When Helping Hurts: More Grief Support Needed for First Responders
Grief support is essential for first responders
With a background in the ambulance service, and now as a grief specialist, I know first-hand why first responders need improved support. Incidents of mental ill health, even suicide, all point to the need for something better.
First responders are exposed to highly challenging and traumatic situations as part of their job, and the emotional toll can be significant. They often witness or experience loss, tragedy, and human suffering, which can lead to various forms of grief and emotional distress.
Here are some reasons why more grief support is essential for first responders.
Frequent exposure to trauma
First responders regularly encounter traumatic incidents, such as accidents, natural disasters, and violent crimes. These experiences can accumulate over time, leading to unresolved grief and emotional strain.
Over time, first responders may face multiple losses and tragedies, resulting in cumulative grief. This can become overwhelming and challenging to cope with, especially without proper support.
Lack of understanding
Grief in first responders can be unique due to the nature of their work. Without adequate understanding and acknowledgment of their experiences, they may feel isolated and misunderstood.
Stigma around seeking help
There might be a stigma surrounding mental health and seeking support within first responder communities. This stigma can prevent individuals from seeking the help they need.
Impact on mental health
Unresolved grief and emotional trauma can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide. Proper grief support can mitigate the risk of these outcomes.
Coping with loss of colleagues
First responders also face the loss of their colleagues in the line of duty, which can be deeply distressing and challenging to process.
To address these concerns, the following steps can be taken to provide more grief support for first responders.
Provide comprehensive training to first responders on grief, loss, and trauma to help them understand and cope with their emotions effectively.
Peer support programmes
Establish peer support programs where first responders can share their experiences, feelings, and grief with colleagues who understand the unique challenges they face.
Accessible mental health resources
Ensure that first responders have easy access to mental health professionals who are experienced in dealing with grief and trauma. Saying ‘they know where to find it’ is not enough. There needs to be a more proactive approach.
Conduct regular debriefings after critical incidents to allow first responders to process their emotions and experiences.
Grief Support Needed for First Responders
Offer specialised grief services tailored to the unique needs of first responders.
Encourage help-seeking behaviour
Create a supportive culture that encourages first responders to seek help when needed, without fear of stigma or judgement.
Focus on prevention
Implement strategies to prevent and mitigate the impact of grief on mental health, such as regular mental health check-ins and stress management programmes.
By providing more grief support and mental health resources, we can better care for the well-being of our first responders, who bravely serve their communities in challenging and often traumatic circumstances.
Paul Butler is an Emotional Vulnerability Coach, working with students, teenagers and adults, helping them build sustainable mental wellness and learning the tools to be emotionally vulnerable, learning how to heal grieving hearts and lighten the weight that loss can have on us throughout life. You can find out more about Paul here.