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Coronavirus and Mental Wellness For First Responders

first responders

(Information taken from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html)

We are experiencing confusing and perhaps anxiety provoking times, during which we may need more support.  Our communities are being asked to practice social distancing at a time when fear and uncertainty might have us seek MORE social support rather than less.  Even more challenging, if you are a healthcare, social service or essential worker you are likely being asked to work in the midst of the pandemic.

Law Enforcement and other First Responders face unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, as these are professions that cannot refuse services to individuals.  It will be especially important to take special care of both physical and mental health during this state of emergency. 

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause:

During a Response: Understand and Identify Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress

  • Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed.
  • Secondary traumatic stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.

Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.

Signs of Burnout:

  • Sadness, depression, or apathy
  • Easily frustrated
  • Blaming of others, irritability
  • Lacking feelings, indifferent
  • Isolation or disconnection from others
  • Poor self-care (hygiene)
  • Tired, exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Feeling like:
  • A failure
    • Nothing you can do will help
    • You are not doing your job well
    • You need alcohol/other drugs to cope

Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress

  • Excessively worry or fear about something bad happening
  • Easily startled, or “on guard” all of the time
  • Physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart)
  • Nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation
  • The feeling that others’ trauma is yours

Get support from team members: Develop a Buddy System

  • In a buddy system, two responders partner together to support each other, and monitor each other’s stress, workload, and safety.
  • Get to know each other. Talk about background, interests, hobbies, and family. Identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Keep an eye on each other. Try to work in the same location if you can.
  • Set up times to check-in with each other. Listen carefully and share experiences and feelings. Acknowledge tough situations and recognize accomplishments, even small ones.
  • Offer to help with basic needs such as sharing supplies and transportation.
  • Monitor each other’s workloads. Encourage each other to take breaks. Share opportunities for stress relief (rest, routine sleep, exercise, and deep breathing).
  • Communicate your buddy’s basic needs and limits to leadership – make your buddy feel “safe” to speak up.

Responder Self-Care Techniques

  • Limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts if possible.
  • Work in teams and limit the amount of time working alone.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
  • Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no.”
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol.

It is important to remind yourself:

  • It is not selfish to take breaks.
  • The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being.
  • Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution.
  • There are other people who can help in the response.

Responding to disasters can be both rewarding and stressful. Knowing that you have stress and coping with it as you respond will help you stay well, and this will allow you to keep helping those who are affected. Here are some resources should you need to reach out to talk, get support, or find more long-term interventions:

Resources: All are confidential…don’t hesitate, just call!

  • Safecallnow.org or call the 24/7 crisis and referral hotline at 206-459-3020 for first responders
  • Survivefirst.us or call 844-577-7233, supports for first responders
  • Contact the local Critical Incident Stress Management Team (CISM) peer to peer team members:
  • Amy Baker from the Carroll County Health Department at 443-536-2002 or at baker@maryland.gov (Clinical team member)
  • Veronica Dietz from the Carroll County Health Department at 443-683-1516 or at dietz@maryland.gov (clinical team member)
  • Nikki Heuer from Westminster Police Department at 410-984-5418 or at nheuer@westgov.com (law enforcement team member)

The CISM team can provide direct support, or, connect you with trained law enforcement peers inside or outside of Carroll County, and link you to clinical personnel or resources in the community.