You may be asking yourself how peer support can help First Responders in my organization? Or what exactly is peer support? Well you’ve come to the right place! Peer support is emotional and practical support between two people who share a common experience. A Peer Supporter has gone through a similar experience, and is trained to support others. 

Peer support is gaining recognition as an effective way to reduce stress, mitigate the effects of repetitive exposure to trauma, and improve day to day wellness of those in the helping professions.

Many first responders are suffering in silence.

The mental health of first responders is a growing concern. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the annual suicide rate among first responders is 28.4 per 100,000—more than twice that of the general population. Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Report from 2010-2012, 1 in 4 police officers report experiencing work-related stress or traumatic events. Compared with 1 in 7 non-police/non-fire service employees.

As you can see, an overwhelming majority of first responders are not seeking help and are suffering in silence. From speaking to hundreds of you over the years, there’s often a misconception that first responders should ‘man up’ and handle issues on their own.

Individuals often arrive at this conclusion due to one or several of these factors:

  • As ‘helpers’, a first responders natural instinct is usually to be the strong one, to power through. It is hard to switch gears, to ask and receive help, even when encouraged and necessary.
  • Traumatic incidents are understood to be an unfortunate, but a guaranteed outcome of their work. Individuals will often quiet their intuition, which is signaling that something isn’t right. A member’s inner dialogue, or conversations with colleagues may include narratives such as “it’s part of the job”, “you’re stronger than this”, or “it’ll get better with time”
  • First responders often have limited access to healthcare, because they don’t have health insurance coverage or are using up sick days to manage life’s challenges.

This is why peer support programs are so valuable. They enable first responders to talk openly, without judgment, surrounded by others who know exactly where they are coming from. Peer supports are there to help you confront what you’re dealing with. They validate your experiences and help you get better, without the guilt. Taking a proactive approach to mental wellness, helps minimize negative outcomes and gets members back on the job, feeling their best.

First responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

When it comes to mental health, many departments lack appropriate resources and support systems that help address issues before they escalate. This is why peer support has become an integral part of almost every wellness program. A Ruderman white paper has revealed that first responders (policemen and firefighters) are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017, there were at least 103 firefighter suicides and 140 police officer suicides. In contrast, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.

The rate is even higher for first responders (specifically police in this scenario) who work in small departments (≤ 50). In this case, those front line personnel experiencing thoughts of suicide at a rate three times higher than their colleagues in larger departments.

Peer support is cost-effective 

Peer support has been proven to reduce stress, improve job satisfaction and increase engagement at work.

Cost savings include decreased use of health services (mental health care), reduced absenteeism from work and increased productivity. The latter as a result of members being more physically healthy and emotionally stable (less likely to get sick). Less physical injuries on the job due to fatigue (leading to more worker compensation claims), is also a factor.

Peer support is an important part of every organization’s efforts to improve employee wellness, reduce stress, and increase safety within their ranks. As a result, peer support is a cost-effective way to improve wellness among emergency responders.

At First Response Mental Health we are here to help you learn how peer support helps First Responders. To learn more about the Peer Support program offered through PeerConnect and how the platform can benefit your organization, set up a demo by clicking here.