The First Responders Support Team (FRST) specializes in working with first responders on behavioral health issues and Suicide Prevention training.
Co-Director of the FRST Team, clinician Stephanie Levy, shares how the First Responders Foundation has been working with local first responders over the last year and a half, how barriers are being broken, and how progress is being made to help prevent suicide in this demographic.
Unfortunately, first responders are statistically more apt to die by suicide than on the job, or in the line of duty.
FRST Suicide Prevention Training
Here is what Stephanie has to share with us:
“Over the past 18 months suicide education has been a top priority for the FRST Team. In the last quarter of 2019, the First Responders Foundation gave presentations to the Omaha Fire Department aimed at addressing the stigma of mental health on the job.”
“This program was the first layer of Suicide Prevention training and education for the entire department. The original training addressing stigma created a foundation to build upon. Following that was a Train the Trainer for about a dozen peers in OFD that focused specifically on recognizing the signs of mental health issues. The trainers then shared the training with the rest of the department in 2020.”
“The mental health professionals of the FRST Team were able to create the training and educate the trainers, giving them the tools to train the department.”
“Firefighters talking about mental health and suicide break the stigma more effectively than learning from mental health professionals. We always hope to open up a dialogue about suicide and mental health.”
“This can be more effective if it is done within. Once people can recognize the signs and have open conversations about mental health issues then resources can be given for treatment when needed.”
“For first responders to check on each other, and for loved ones of first responders, here are the main signs to look for are when first responders may be struggling with mental health issues or may be suicidal.”
For first responders, depression can show up as anger and irritability. Also, a lack of motivation or not enjoying activities they used to enjoy. A lot of people are looking for feelings of sadness that may not be present – numbness might be a better way to describe it for many. I’ve had many first responders not understand that they are depressed because they do not feel sad.
First responders start off thriving in the “family” atmosphere of departments, but when they start to struggle with mental health issues, they feel different and start to distance themselves. They often stop participating in the group activities or banter on the job because they feel they do not belong and maybe “found out”.
Exhaustion comes in the form of depletion of internal resources and the ability to cope. No amount of sleep will cure the feeling of exhaustion – the exhaustion has more to do with being overwhelmed and with giving so much, sometimes for a long period of time. Compassion fatigue is often described as the cost of caring. The more you care about your job, the more invested and exhausted you can become.
NEGATIVE COPING STRATEGIES:
Often times when a first responder is struggling they turn to negative coping strategies to help in the moment. Examples of this are drinking to help with sleep, overspending to feel good in the moment, and really anything negative that you are using to fix an internal problem with something external.
These are examples of outward signs that first responders may be struggling with mental health issues and may need some assistance. Sometimes just acknowledgment that there is a problem is all that is needed with a few coping strategies.
The stronger a department’s peer support team the better. The more we can help facilitate the conversations and increase access to resources the more likely someone is to reach out. Peer support teams can recognize, address, and support these issues internally. They are the front lines.
When in crisis it is hard to figure out where to go. The peer support team’s availability means first responders can reach out to friends and co-workers for assistance. They are more apt to reach out to friends than to reach out to professionals.”
First Responders Foundation
The First Responders Foundation has many programs to help facilitate education and treatment for individuals, families, and paid and non-paid departments. The FRST Team has worked with many individuals, families, and departments in 2020.
For more information visit the FRST page, email FRST@firstrespondersfoundation.org or call 402-218-1234 #2.