Learn the common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.
Learn more about common mental health conditions that affect millions
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Public safety encompasses an array of professionals — from the dispatch call center to each aspect of emergency response and throughout the justice system. We call on these individuals every day to respond to emergencies and sustain our health and safety. These are difficult, often thankless jobs that require a willingness to face tough situations with expertise and composure, frequently while in harm’s way.
You’re trained to handle these calls. Some of them stay with you, some of them don’t. You may also feel anger as a result of the senseless tragedies that seem to be occurring with greater frequency. It feels wrong and makes it hard to respond to calls with empathy. This is known as moral injury, and it can create added struggle.
You may question why you’re not bothered by a particular call or outcome, or whether you’re experiencing a normal reaction to the scenes you respond to. It may help you to know that trauma creates a variety of responses. Feeling upset about a call can be expressed in problems with sleep or dreams, feeling irritable or wanting to be alone, sudden emotions or even physical pain.
There are ways to improve how you cope and feel better emotionally. If you’re a first responder, you already know how important it is to keep yourself physically healthy and fit for duty. But in order to serve effectively and safely, you also have to prioritize your mental wellness.
Below you will find information and resources specifically for public safety professionals, with simple tips to build your resiliency and resources for your loved ones. As you explore these areas, take a moment to review the signs that it’s time to reach out for support.
Taking care of others requires that you also care for yourself.
Sometimes it’s easy to recognize the signs that you need to talk to someone about how you’re doing. But it can also become routine to ignore the effects of stress and trauma as you respond to calls, take extra shifts and manage all the usual stressors day after day.
It’s essential to practice self-care and check in with yourself regularly. Be aware of how you’re feeling, especially after difficult shifts. Don’t let symptoms of trauma or stress reach a dangerous level.
Reach out for support if you are experiencing any of these warning signs.
Feeling irritable or angry. You have a lack of patience for things that never used to bother you. You feel irritated or even angry a lot more often than usual.
Feeling anxious, depressed, lonely or constantly sad. You feel happy much less frequently. The bad days seem to far outweigh the good days.
Reliving traumatic events. You want nothing more than to forget the distressing things you’ve experienced, or the losses and suffering you’ve seen, but those memories keep reappearing, often unexpectedly.
Isolating yourself and lack of trust in others. You feel alone, yet you also prefer to be alone. You don’t want to talk or socialize, or maybe you’ve lost interest in activities you used to enjoy. You may question whether anyone cares, including your leadership at work or even people who are close to you.
Experiencing compassion fatigue, burnout or moral injury. You find it difficult to empathize with others and are bothered by decisions and situations that feel wrong. The cost of caring feels like it’s stretched you thin, making it feel like a struggle just to get through each shift.
Struggling to sleep or oversleeping. You have trouble sleeping due to shiftwork and a lack of recovery time. You never seem to feel rested. Or you feel like sleeping far more than usual.
New or increased substance use. You, and perhaps others, have noticed an increase in how much you’re drinking or using other substances.
You may also be experiencing physical issues that impact you in unexpected ways. This could include:
Cumulative stress and trauma can create a range of emotions and responses, and it may seem overwhelming at times. These feelings and experiences are normal, but they can take a significant toll on your mental and physical well-being. It doesn’t mean that you are destined to have a long-term mental health condition because you’re experiencing any of these signs, but addressing them is vital to ensuring lifelong health and wellness.
In addition to the peer support resources and confidential professional support resources you can find on this site, you can also call the NAMI HelpLine – a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. The NAMI HelpLine is available Monday through Friday between 10 am and 10 pm ET at 800-950-6264.
Remember: If you are in crisis, there are resources you can turn to.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers free, confidential crisis counseling 24/7/365 — and you don’t have to be in crisis to call or text.
The Crisis Text Line also offers free 24/7 mental health support. Text “SCRUBS” to 741741 for help.
Not everyone can talk about the topics and issues that first responders encounter. You see and experience things that are unthinkable to most, and that’s why peer support is important. Your peers know what it’s like, they share your perspective, and they are ready to help their fellow responders. You are not alone.
Public safety professionals are often reluctant to seek professional support. This may be due to concerns about leaders or coworkers finding out and losing confidence in their ability to do the job. When your job is centered on saving other people in emergency situations, it may also be difficult to reconcile needing help yourself.
As a public safety professional, you are already accustomed to stress. While every call or emergency response may not noticeably affect you, daily stress can accumulate, along with the trauma of working in disturbing and often unsafe situations. It can be easy to ignore what may seem like a minor, or an occasional impact — until you realize that the impact is no longer minor.
It goes without saying that physical health and mental health are intricately linked. This is especially true for first responders. The physical effects of your job are known to contribute to the development of cardiometabolic risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
As the spouse or family member of a first responder, nearly every aspect of your life is affected by your loved one’s challenging career. Although there are many positive benefits to this lifestyle, it can also be very difficult.
Having tools and information to use and share with others is important. Resources can be useful in different ways for everyone, so we encourage you to explore options as you build your resource toolkit.
In a crisis? Call or text 988.