Depression and PTSD are up to five times more common in first responders than in the general population.
- Content Reviewed By:
- Andrew McKenna - JD
- Deputy Director of NCADD Westchester
How Common Are Mental Health Struggles Among First Responders?
When Mental Health Issues Lead To Substance Abuse Among First Responders
What Do I Do If My Substance Abuse Affects My Job?
Let Treatment Come To Your Rescue
Additional Mental Health Services For First Responders
Websites and Organizations
They’re the first people there when tragedy, disaster, and crisis strike. They’re responsible for saving lives and property and keeping us safe every single day. They’re on the front lines of health and safety. First responders face enormous responsibility, and it often takes an even more significant toll on their mental health. Job-related pressure, long and exhausting hours, and the trauma of seeing tragedy day after day are just some of the factors that contribute to mental health challenges in this community.
Despite the disproportionate rates of substance use disorder and other mental health struggles within the first responder community, these brave men and women often face considerable access barriers when they seek treatment.
How Common Are Mental Health Struggles among First Responders?
Approximately one-third of first responders develop at least one behavioral health condition. Additional research indicates that 85 percent exhibit at least mild symptoms. These include the police, paramedics, firefighters, and EMTs, who keep us safe and protected every day. Specific mental health issues faced by this community include:
- Depression – Depression and PTSD are up to five times more common in first responders than in the general population.
- Anxiety – Data from the National Institutes of Health indicates that around 38 percent of paramedics struggle with anxiety disorder, as well as around 28 percent of EMS personnel and 19 percent of police.
- PTSD – Over 80 percent of first responders experience traumatic events on the job. And because they face challenging and dangerous situations, first responders are at a high risk of developing PTSD as a work-related injury or condition. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), roughly 30 percent of first responders develop PTSD.
Firefighters are reported to have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts than the general population, while other data indicates that between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year. They are, in fact, more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
When Mental Health Issues Lead to Substance Abuse among First Responders
The inability to effectively cope with the above mental health issues commonly leads to self-medication with alcohol and other drugs. The trauma associated with their daily experiences often leads to higher rates of drinking, and the physical rigors of the job can easily lead to opioid dependency. This is why it’s critical that first responders seek intuitive and expert care that speaks to their specific treatment needs. Many addiction treatment centers offer specialized programs for first responders.
Effective and insightful treatment must include care for the immediate impact of substance use while simultaneously addressing the job-related causes and triggers of their mental health and addiction issues. Dual-diagnosis treatment offers this comprehensive level of care.
Some of the more common therapies from which first responders can benefit in treatment include, but are not limited to:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Motivational Interviewing
- Group Dynamics
Additional elements of treatment should include medically supervised detoxification and withdrawal management as well as case management services that provide personal oversight and guidance through the clinical and logistical parts of the care process.
What Do I Do If My Substance Abuse Affects My Job?
It’s very common for first responders’ mental health issues to eventually impact the jobs that created their problems in the first place. If you or your loved one is a first responder facing disciplinary action or other types of issues that require you to get help. Your labor union can help you navigate the process so you can get the help you need without having to worry about losing your job.
Depending upon what type of work you are in, there are multiple advocacy organizations that can help such as to:
- International Assoc. of Firefighters
- Fraternal Order of Police
- International Union of Police Association.
- NAEMT- National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
- IAEP- International Assoc. of EMTs and Paramedics
- National EMS Management Association.
- Fire Department Safety Officers Association.
- National Fire Protection Association
- National Assoc of Police Organizations
- International Police Association
While not every first responder may be aligned with these organizations, their local municipalities and advocacy organizations may also be able to provide a roadmap for support and treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers the First Responders and Disaster Responders Resource Portal to help members of this community find treatment and ongoing support. The personnel at your treatment center can also help to complete any compliance paperwork needed to notify your employer that you’re completing your program as a condition of your employment.
Let Treatment Come to Your Rescue. Find Help Today.
You protect the people in our community, and you shouldn’t have to be ashamed, afraid, or guilty for asking for help for yourself. Our representatives are standing by 24/7 to help you or your loved one find an addiction and mental health treatment program that offers specialized help for first responders so you can heal and get the peace of mind you deserve. Contact us today to start your treatment and recovery.
Additional Mental Health Services for First Responders
- Copline – A 24-hour hotline for law enforcement staffed by retired officers trained to be peer listeners and provide support for law enforcement officers and their families at 800-267-5463.
- Frontline Helpline – A hotline staffed by former first responders who offer support for first responders and their family members affected by their traumatic experiences at 866-676-7500.
- Heroes Health Initiative – A resource for healthcare workers and first responders to track their mental health and access helpful resources.
- Emergency Responders: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma, (SAMHSA)
- First Responders Trauma and Suicide, Centre for Suicide Prevention
- Mental Health Fact Sheet – First Responders, Veterans Affairs
- Suicide Prevention for Healthcare Professionals, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit, Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice
Websites and Organizations
- Behavioral Health – First Responder Center for Excellence
- The Code Green Campaign
- COVID-19 – Frontline Workers, Mental Health America (MHA)
- Crisis Support Resources for Emergency Responders, Disaster Responder Assets Network (DRAN)
- Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance
- First Responder Support Network
- Frontline Professionals, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Mental Health First Aid for Fire and EMS, National Council for Mental Wellbeing
- Mental Health Resources, Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)
- Project Healing Heroes
- Share the Load Program
- Survive First