When first responders develop symptoms of depression or begin to struggle with addiction or thoughts of suicide, their first inclination is often just to “suck it up” and keep going. Their primary focus is helping others, so when they are the ones who need help, they may not feel there is anywhere for them to go.
The good news is that if you are living with addiction, alcoholism, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health issues, you are not alone. These disorders, among others, are exceedingly common among first responders due to the nature of the job. Often, you can find an amazing amount of support simply by turning to the people you work with who are also working toward recovery.
Peer support offers first responders a range of benefits. Some of these include:
- Meeting with people who speak your language: It’s helpful to know that you are speaking to a person who understands the lingo. You don’t have to explain acronyms or procedure; the Peer Support Team Member gets it because they live it every day, too.
- Learning from people who have been where you are: You will meet people in your Peer Support Team who started out where you are and have seen what you have seen — and moved forward to a place of recovery. This provides you with a regular reminder that healing and hope are real.
- Support that is available at all hours: First responders work 24 hours a day. Someone from your Peer Support Team is available when you need to talk to someone.
- Tools that are applicable to the job: Dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, and addiction while staying on the job is easier when you get treatment and actionable tools that you can apply right now from people who know what they are talking about.
- Assistance with communication: Learning how to communicate what you’ve experienced and what you need requires practice; you can find a safe place to do that with a Peer Support Team Member.
- Increased family support: Families of people struggling with addiction and mental health disorders benefit from supporting each other — as do families of firefighters and other first responders. Often, you can find resources for your family through your Peer Support Team
- Attention to health issues: There are certain health problems that are common among certain professions or in certain regions given the nature of the job. Your Peer Support Team may be able to direct you to the appropriate medical care.
- No judgment: No matter what you’ve been through, what you say or how you say it, your peers have likely been through it, seen it before, or heard it from someone else. There is no need to fear the judgment of the peer supporter when you are doing nothing more than sharing your experience on the job.
- Directed advice: Need help with a specific issue you are facing on the job right now? A Peer Support Team Member may be able to help in a way that is appropriate and applicable.
This article (list) was originally published by James E. Morrison, retired Chicago Police Officer and Employee Assistance Program Treatment Consultant for Law Enforcement at American Addiction Centers, on LinkedIn.