The restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic brought mental health awareness to the forefront. first responders continue to work on the front lines, taking care of others while also trying to protect themselves as well as their families.
That stress pushed mental health of those workers to the limits.
Dylan Huberman dives into the minds of those who treat us dealing with issues of vulnerability are never comfortable for any of us.
For decades, experts say first responders felt there was a stigma of weakness for seeking and receiving mental help.
Now it is rightfully viewed as a strength. first responders such as firefighters, paramedics and police officers are asked to put their lives on the line daily so US civilians don’t have to. As a result, they lose time with their families that closely protect the public and put themselves in physical danger, even though they manage to focus on saving lives in the moments they’re called upon.
Sergeant Ryan Hendrick says those elements all weigh heavily on the brain.
“Initially, when you first get there, we’re trained so much that the work takes over, but obviously that thought is always in the back of your mind again, that we want to get home at the end of the day. And the more they seem to see, the more it starts to wear on you.”
Former State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego says poised at a scene comes with experience, but with experience comes respect for the dangers of the job, of balancing the fear with the job.
“It is a very tough day, depending on the experience of the firefighter, though it might lean more in. I’m able to handle this situation versus, Hey, I’m going to go get this in and not worry about safety as much as when you do when you get a little bit more experience.”
Geisinger Western Region Primary Care Director, Dr. Cybele Pacheco, says that stability and decisiveness can be compromised regardless of experience.
“They work all hours, and so they are fighting against natural body rhythms for sleep and hunger and having to work through those.
And so they’re not only dealing with the mental health portion of this, but also the physical portion as well.”
And thanks to the pandemic, staffing challenges have made matters worse.
“The number of folks that are available to volunteer or to respond have become limited, and it’s taking its toll because that’s an added stress.
So the people that are there are working harder, longer hours”
For much of the last century. Addressing these flaws was seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability.
“Many years ago when I started back in the seventies. It was not uncommon to to face the stigma of you were weak.
If you admitted that you had something bothering you, especially if it was something that you saw or encountered on the fire grounds or the rescue situation and the the attitude then pretty much seemed to be suck it up, kid. That’s part of the business,”
Something Dr. Pacheco believes to be an unfair characterization.
“The stigma, I think, really comes from the labeling of the diagnoses, depression and anxiety. And that’s unfortunate because anything can cause those particular diagnoses. You know, chronic illness in and of itself can cause tremendous anxiety.”
“What? And I hate to even use this word. The silver lining from COVID has been all of us have dealt with some kind of mental health through this time, and that sliver of solidarity has made these frontline heroes begin to take care of themselves to shrinking the shadow of that stigma.”
It’s definitely changing. So whether it’s military, firefighters, law enforcement, that stigma is always going to be there. But we’re trying to let people know that you’re going to be the best version of yourself. And to do that, you may need to talk to somebody.
Everybody’s different, and everyone says different life experiences. This changing dynamic runs from the most novice of responders right up to some of the most experienced, including Trigo himself. I have to be perfectly honest in the fact that there was a time that I had a lot of problems and my friends recognized it in me.
They suggested someone to go to. I went and I continued to beat with that, that specialist twice a month. We’ve become more than friends out of it, and it doesn’t mean that we’re sitting there talking about what’s the matter with you, Bruce?
“It’s more of talking just like you and I are to each other and understanding that, hey, there are some things that you need to get over, and it’s been a tremendous help.”
Dr. Pacheco says that just as triggers family and friends did for him, recognizing the need for and actually asking for help is the hurdle being cleared
“I think what we are at least recognizing is that you can get help, that you can come in and ask for help. And if that’s being viewed as a strength, then great.”
And more importantly, beating that stigma seems to be beneficial for the vast majority who stand up to.Face it,
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m not aware of anyone to go a different direction that has reached out for mental health and hasn’t said it’s a positive outcome. So we need to
change that stigma for it’s it’s unacceptable not to get help.”
“It should be. It’s acceptable to get help and almost expected to get help when needed, not the other way around. As for anyone who has a problem with this newfound sensitivity, Trigo has a message for you. And if people want to lay a stigma on me that I’m weak, that’s OK.”