Learn the common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.
Learn more about common mental health conditions that affect millions
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Public safety encompasses an array of professionals — from the dispatch call center to each aspect of emergency response and throughout the justice system. We call on these individuals every day to respond to emergencies and sustain our health and safety. These are difficult, often thankless jobs. They require a willingness to face tough situations with expertise and composure, frequently while in harm’s way. The added pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder to get ahead of the stress.
Because you need to be effective and serve safely, taking care of yourself is critical. As you explore these areas, take a moment to review the signs that it’s time to reach out for support. You will find a range of resources specifically for frontline public safety professionals, simple tips to build your resiliency and resources for your loved ones.
At times it’s easy to recognize signs that you need to talk to someone, even if you feel reluctant to make a call. But while the difficult calls and shifts add up, you may underestimate the effects of trauma and stress — and it becomes easy to overlook the signs that you need support. Don’t be reluctant to ask for help if you are experiencing any of the following warning signs.
Feeling irritable or angry. You may have a lack of patience for things that never used to bother you. It seems to happen at times when it doesn’t make sense to be that upset.
Feeling anxious, depressed, lonely or constantly sad. You may feel down, moody, or notice that you feel happy much less frequently. The bad days seem to far outweigh the good days.
Reliving traumatic events. You want to forget that call, the scene that unfolded, the devastation you responded to, but those memories keep reappearing, usually at unexpected times.
Isolating and lack of trust in others. You may feel alone, and you prefer to be alone. Usual interests and activities are no longer appealing to you. You may question whether anyone cares, including your leadership at work. You worry that even people who are normally close to you can’t understand how you feel.
Experiencing compassion fatigue, burnout or moral injury. You may find it difficult to empathize with others, and are bothered by situations and events that feel very wrong to you. The cost of serving your community is taking a toll on you with every shift.
Struggling to sleep or oversleeping. You may be negatively impacted by shiftwork and have little recovery time. Sleep is interrupted or elusive, and you never seem to feel rested.
New or increased substance use. You may feel that it is much easier to find ease or solace with a few drinks. But you or someone close to you has noticed an increase in how much you are drinking.
You may also be experiencing physical issues that impact you in unexpected ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created some unusual circumstances in addition to the daily stressors you face in the public safety profession. It can seem overwhelming. These feelings are normal, but they can take a significant toll on your well-being.
It doesn’t mean that you are destined to have a long-term mental health condition because you’re experiencing this, but addressing signs and symptoms is vital to ensuring lifelong mental health and wellness.
Taking care of yourself is essential — and NAMI can help.
Supportive resources for public safety professionals can range broadly in what they offer. It is important to have options, but sometimes professional mental health support is necessary to address what you’re going through.
There are number of free, confidential and virtual support services available for public safety professionals. You can access these services without concern for your career, and they are staffed with professionals who understand your line of work. Find one that is right for you.
You can also contact the NAMI HelpLine between 10 am and 8 pm ET at 800-950-6264 to access confidential, professional support. For immediate assistance, text “10-18” to 741741 at any time.
Not everyone can talk about the topics and issues that first responders encounter. You see and experience things that are unthinkable to most, and that’s why peer support is important. Your peers know what it’s like, they share your perspective and they are ready to help their fellow responders stand strong. You are not alone.
Public safety professionals understand stress; it is the basis of your work. Responding to emergency calls, fighting fires or interacting as a member of the justice system involves remaining calm in disturbing and often unsafe situations. You rely on training and a necessary amount of desensitization to trauma in order to do your job. From the dispatcher taking the call, to the emergency responders on scene, your training ensures public safety and helps save lives.
Desensitization to stress and trauma allows your training to take over so you can effectively respond. It is necessary and helpful to learn to absorb some of the shock. But those shocks can still add up, and even what appears to be a routine call can have a profound and unexpected impact.
Resiliency reduces the harmful effects of stress and trauma, helping you maintain your well-being. Strengthening and adding protective factors like social support, access to resources, and caring for your physical health all serve to help you effectively counteract cumulative stress. Think of it as a core muscle that you can strengthen through exercise, but will atrophy without care.
In the era of COVID-19, many of the methods you use to alleviate stress may not be available to you — like getting together with friends to decompress or working out at the gym. Whether you are hoping to add tools to your existing wellness routine, or are exploring resources for the first time, you have options. Before getting into specific strategies, start with these important steps.
You may find many of these tips and resources helpful, and we encourage you to explore them to determine what you are most comfortable with and find useful. Be open to new strategies to build resiliency. You may be surprised at what sparks your motivation. After all, the most effective tool you have is the one that you actually use.
It goes without saying that physical health and mental health are intricately linked. You already know that you should be eating healthy, exercising and making a concerted effort to get quality sleep. This is not an easy task for public safety professionals, and the negative impacts related to shiftwork make it even harder.
You also know that the co-morbidities that make COVID-19 more dangerous are frequently the end result of the physical effects of your job: high blood pressure, excess weight, heart disease, among others. It has never been more urgent to take care of your overall health.
You don’t have to completely alter your habits overnight to improve your health. Rather than overwhelm yourself with unrealistic goals, start with a few small steps. Each step you take leads to improved motivation and healthier habits. Try these tips and resources:
Battling sleep issues adds to your stress. Improved sleep adds to your wellness. Try to keep regular sleep patterns, avoid alcohol, be strategic with caffeine and get regular exercise. When that’s not enough, explore other resources for information and tips:
Being a family member of a first responder can be difficult, especially now. You worry about their health and safety, as well as how their challenging career impacts your family. With the added concern of COVID-19, the worry can feel overwhelming. It is important to have resources and support.
You may find it rewarding to begin a support network for families of public safety professionals in your area, or even sharing resources and support with others on social media. If you have no-cost resources you would like others to know about, please send them to [email protected].
Having tools and information to use and share with others is important. Resources can be useful in different ways for everyone, so we encourage you to explore options as you build your resource toolkit. Continue to discuss with your peers what is available and update your go-to list frequently.
Other resources to consider:
If you have no-cost resources you would like others to know about, please send them to [email protected].
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Call the NAMI Helpline at
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