I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to travel, exhibit my artwork and speak about mental health for first responders. When I travel, I always make a point to meet as many of my peers as I can and ask them about their mental health and support programs available to them. I try to get an accurate sense of their challenges, why they feel the way they do and what they do to overcome it. This is what I’ve learned:
A complete mental wellness program includes three components, preventative (peer support), critical incident response (CISM), and reintegration. It’s also important that these three programs work seamlessly together and in unison. Peer support to minimize and recognize mental trauma early, CISM to manage the acute mental injuries, and reintegration to get the employee back to work. Reintegration, by the way, isn’t just preparing the worker; it’s also educating managers and coworkers on what to do and not do to help integrate their brothers and sisters back to becoming effective emergency workers.
I’ve also learned that the sense of support comes down to three feelings. Feeling supported, feeling understood and feeling validated. Being told to “suck it up” makes us feel unsupported and misunderstood. Being told “that call wasn’t that bad” makes us feel invalidated. Being told “if you can’t hack it then get out” makes us feel unsupported, misunderstood and invalidated. Feeling this way prolongs recovery, costs the employer more money and potentially digs a hole so deep some of us never recover. I’m very proud of how far we have come when it comes to mental wellbeing awareness for emergency workers but there’s still a long, long, long way to go before we figure out how to properly tame this monster.