By Vanessa Stapleton – President Armor Up West Virginia
Why is it that when a first responder is taken over by trauma, PTSD, addiction, or otherwise, the choice becomes to either turn a blind eye or end their career? Why are those the only options? Listen carefully, those are NOT the only options. Who decided those were the only avenues to take? Why do we fire them and send them spiraling further into a disaster that we created to begin with by not offering proper mental health treatment of those we have assigned to handle trauma every single day? Who decided that was acceptable?
We expect first responders to handle all the ugliness of the world that we don’t want to see and pretend doesn’t exist. Not only do we expect them to handle it, but we end their career for being human and struggling with the things that the general public would never be able to process. Why are we accepting this treatment as normal? There is nothing normal about any of this. It is not normal for one person to handle trauma at the level first responders deal with daily. Some people experience one horrific trauma and spend years recovering. We throw first responders into the job where they are exposed to repeated trauma daily. Yet, we punish them for struggling. We applaud the general public and celebrities who step forward to get help when they are suffering. What do we do with our first responders? We end their careers and shame them for being human. At what point do we evolve and say this isn’t working?
What if we told people up front that when they sign up to be a first responder, they will be subjected to unimaginable horrors? When they struggle with those horrors, there will be no help. Would they think twice about that career? What if we told them up front that they will develop insomnia to keep from hearing screams of those they were unable to save? What if we told them they would stop trusting people because they see constant evil in the world? What if we told them that struggling with those horrific tragedies, they may fall into drinking, self-medicating, or suicidal ideations? There is potential for a drug addiction resulting from a legitimate on the job injury. Dr’s prescribe them medications and send them back to work. What happens when they can’t get through their shift without those medications? The only options offered to them at that point are to end their career or continue on while everyone turns a blind eye. Their “peers” will either turn their back on them or will cover for their struggling peer because they know it could just as easily be them. Neither of those options help anyone, but it is what has always been done.
When do we stop this cycle of insanity? When do we recognize this isn’t working? When do we stop and say, there are other options out there?!
First and foremost, let’s say that a first responder will at some point suffer with the tragedies they see and hear. Now, what are we going to do about it?? We are going to step up and recognize that it is normal to struggle with trauma. We should be offering the best of mental health care to our first responders. We expect them to perform their very best so it is reasonable to offer them the best mental health care possible.
We need our upper administration to stand up and lead the way. We need our upper administration to stop punishing those trying to get help. We need upper administration to encourage good mental health and seeking help when necessary. After all, the end result of that is first responders who perform better, are stronger, and are better able to serve the community. Who loses in that scenario? No one.
If first responders reach the point where they are drinking, self-medicating, or having other issues, we need everyone out there, but especially the upper administration, supervisors, chiefs, sheriffs, etc. to know that there is HELP out there. We don’t have to fire those who are suffering. Any one of you can make the call to Safe Call Now to start the process of getting help for one of your own. Instead of turning a blind eye today, step in and help your coworkers and employees. Instead of firing someone in need of help, step in and get them the help they need to heal and deal with their trauma. Let’s give them the chance to not only get better, but develop the coping skills necessary to continue with their lives and careers.
Safe Call Now has a 24/7 confidential hotline, first responder to first responder to get help. Make the call before you turn the blind eye or end someone’s career. You may be the very person to save the life of one of your own. Make the call. 206-459-3020
If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:
Safe Call Now: 24 Hour Confidential Hotline: 206-459-3020
For more information on the First Responders program: Click here
Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008