Episode #30: First Responders arrive at the scene of some of the most dangerous and demanding situations, providing immediate care, support, and medical assistance to survivors in the aftermath of a crime or disaster. While these duties may be essential to the community, this kind of work can take a toll on mental health and result in depression, stress, posttraumatic stress symptoms, suicidal ideation, and a host of other conditions. PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers are as much as 5 times higher than those within the civilian population; consequently, suicide is considerably more common among first responders as well. Joining host Debra Sloss this month are two City of Santa Cruz Police officers, Brian Warren and Connor Bridges, who share about their own experiences on the job and their participation in a peer support team program designed to support mental wellness. Also with us is Critical Incident Specialist and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Laurel Andres, who helps us learn about the mental health needs of first responders and what support workplaces are providing.
In the wake of local wildfires and the recent guilty verdict handed to Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd there are many complex and conflicting emotions being felt about the roles of firefighters, and the police. At the same time, this show is an opportunity to learn more about the complexity of these jobs and a rare chance to hear first-hand about the mental health challenges facing those who do them every day.
Special thanks to Jeanne Baldzikowski for audio production and to Jennifer Young for research and outreach. And finally, thanks to acoustic guitarist Adrian Legg for composing, performing, and donating the use of our theme music.
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I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know Revised Edition by Ellen Kirschman (2007). Being a member of the law enforcement community means long hours, unpredictable shifts, and the crisis-driven nature of the profession can turn life on the home front into an emotional roller coaster. This book takes a look at the tough realities and offers frank, realistic suggestions for handling serious issues like alcohol abuse and domestic violence. You may want to look for the new edition of this book coming out on June 16, 2021.
Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and Their Families by Dr. K. Gilmartin. With twenty years of police experience, it was the author’s goal to aid officers and their families in maintaining and/or improving their quality of life both personally and professionally.
CopLine an officers Lifeline – 1-800-COPLINE or 1-800-267-5463 This is a 24 hr a day/ 7 day a week International Law Enforcement Officers hotline and resource and outlet that those from all law enforcement branches can turn to in times of need. They understand and firmly believe that maintaining anonymity and confidentiality are essential.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255. While this 24/7 hotline is not first responder specific, they can and will talk to anyone who needs help. The Lifeline is available for everyone, is free, and confidential.
First Responder Mental Health Support
First Responder Support Network (FRSN) is a collaboration of first responder peers (included but not limited to police, fire, dispatch, and emergency medical services), Significant Others & Spouses (SOS) peers, and culturally competent mental health clinicians and chaplains. The programs are supported by dedicated volunteers and charitable contributions. They pledge to be committed to diversity and anti-racism in their work and to offer an inclusive and safe space for every first responder.
- Basic and Advanced Peer Support Trainings presentations on topics such as critical incident stress, peer team development, and inoculation training. FRSN is available to speak with responders, their families, and anyone seeking to assist a responder or their significant other. There is no charge for the outreach and the call is confidential (unless someone is in danger). Call 415-721-9789 or submit an inquiry via the Contact Contact link doesn’t work.
- West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat (WCPR) is a 6-day residential program that provides education, support and healing designed to help active, former, and retired first responders recognize the signs and symptoms of work-related stress, including Post Traumatic Stress Injury (aka: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD) in themselves and in others. This program gives first responders tools to deal with the trauma they have endured.”
- Significant Others and Spouses (SOS) program is for the spouses or partners of first responders who have been affected by critical incidents experienced by their loved ones (resulting in secondary or vicarious traumatization), but may also be experiencing their own depression or anxiety symptoms, and need to address their needs. In addition, these individuals may have their own trauma history, which is re-activated when his/her partner experiences a traumatic event.
The International Critical Incident and Stress Foundation, Inc. – their mission is to be the leader in providing education, training, consultation, and support services in comprehensive crisis intervention and disaster behavioral health services to emergency responders, and other professions, organizations and communities worldwide.
Mindful Badge – incorporates mindfulness skills into the rhythms of leadership, management and operations in order to transform, not just health, but also the capacity for the skills in humanity that support the complex and difficult work of policing and can support the ability to lead a forward evolution of policing alongside other leaders in the community.
Other Sources of Information
Santa Cruz Police Department Peer Support Team – If you are a first responder, medic, law enforcement or fire professional and want information about upcoming Peer Team Support Trainings, you can contact the Santa Cruz Police Department: (831) 471-1131.
Preparing for the Unimaginable – NAMI Report for law enforcement departments about how to care for the mental health of their officers. U.S. law enforcement has learned from tragic events over the years and now trains to respond to threats with the best equipment and practices known today and shares it in this report.
Laurel Andres, LMFT
Officer Brian Warren
Detective Connor Bridges