Mental Health Support:
5 First Steps for First Responders
First responders are at the front lines of keeping our communities safe, but the demands of the job—along with everyday stressors like moving, divorce, or retirement—can take a toll. Research shows that first responders are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress and anxiety than the civilians they protect*.
As a first responder balancing a high-stakes job and other responsibilities, it can be hard to find the time to care for yourself—or to know where to start. Below are five steps you can take to get the care and support you need.
1. Talk to a Professional
One of the most important first steps you can take is talking about what you’re feeling with a therapist. As a first responder, you see things that most civilians don’t. In addition to helping you cope with the trauma that is unique to your job, a therapist can guide you through everyday stressors, including relationship issues and life transitions. While it may be tempting to try to work through problems on your own—after all, helping people is part of what you do every day—therapists can help you identify your “blind spots” by providing an outside perspective and proven strategies.
To find a therapist, start by reviewing your health insurance benefits to find out what’s covered by your plan. If you have EmblemHealth insurance, click here to get started.
If you’re in immediate distress and need to talk to someone right away, there are free resources available, including NYC Well’s confidential support line. Call 1-888-NYC-WELL or text WELL to 65173 for free, confidential support, 24/7.
2. Talk to a Friend
While your job as a first responder involves interacting with people on a daily basis, you may still feel alone and isolated if you don’t have a support network of your own. Whether it’s a colleague, friend, or support group, talking to someone you trust is a simple but important first step. Support groups can connect you with others who are coping with similar issues and can provide advice and support based on your shared experiences.
Your therapist or Human Resources department are good places to start when looking for a support group. If you’re experiencing a crisis and need to access peer support right away, Safe Call Now (1-206-459-3020) is a free crisis hotline staffed by first responders and their family members.
3. Take Care of Your Body
Staying active, eating healthy and getting enough sleep is just as important for your mind as it is for your body. If you frequently find yourself heading to the vending machine, stash non-perishable snacks like dried fruit and almonds in your vehicle or supply kit. If you work night shifts, invest in blackout curtains or buy a sleep mask to ensure you’re getting the seven to nine hours of sleep a night recommended by The National Sleep Foundation. If you struggle to make it to the gym between shifts, download a workout app or check out YouTube for free exercise videos.
Establishing a routine and finding a resource to keep you accountable can make all the difference. For free health & wellness classes—from yoga to kickboxing to nutrition—visit one of EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care’s locations throughout New York City.
4. Quiet Your Mind
Meditation is the practice of slowing and focusing your mind on the present moment. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety by calming your mind and creating a quiet moment to recharge during an otherwise chaotic day. And, with many free meditation apps to choose from, it’s never been easier to practice meditation for just a few minutes a day, anywhere.
5. Be Kind to Yourself
As a first responder, you practice compassion on a daily basis—but you should also remember to practice that same compassion when it comes to yourself. Practice self-care, both in action and in thought. Write down your thoughts in a journal or on your phone. Practice saying “no” and set limits for yourself. Remind yourself that vulnerability is a strength, and can help build the empathy you need to do your job.
*Ruderman Family Foundation, “The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders,” April 2018.