We are going to wrap up this series of articles on breaking the stigma by talking about the ABCs that will undoubtedly make a difference and help change the landscape in emergency services for the good of those who serve in those vital roles.
First, the A: Address the Issues. The causes of the stigma associated with seeking help must be addressed. We’ve talked in this video serious about what at least some of those causes are: personnel don’t trust their department or agency to support them, they don’t believe clinicians understand them, and they don’t want to appear weak by asking for help.
Still, the fact that stress-related injuries exist needs to be addressed. Stress-related injuries are just as real as the physical injuries that uniformed services personnel may suffer. It’s time that they were treated with the same sense of urgency and understanding. And of course, the fact that we lose more first responders to suicide each year than in the line of duty needs to be addressed. This has been true every year for at least the last five years, and the unfortunate truth is that the trend is rising despite the efforts of a number of good organizations that are trying to make a difference. We need to acknowledge that this is the inevitable result of having a culture of stigma regarding mental wellness in these services.
Next, the B: Build Trust. Trust is critical to the success of relationships. The point of building trust is for others to believe what you say. Keep in mind, however, that building trust requires not only keeping the promises you make but also not making promises you’re unable to keep. Keeping your word shows others what you expect from them, and in turn, they’ll be more likely to treat you with respect, developing further trust in the process.
Developing trust in a relationship can take a significant amount of time. Building trust is a daily commitment. Don’t make the mistake of expecting too much too soon. In order to build trust, first take small steps and take on small commitments and then, as trust grows, you will be more at ease with making and accepting bigger commitments. Put trust in, and you will generally get trust in return.
In important point to remember here is that peers have a natural advantage for accelerating the time it takes to establish trust. In fact, first responders tell us – by a 4 to 1 margin – that they would rather have voluntary participation in an effective peer-to-peer support program than to be forced to have mandatory annual meetings with a mental health professional hired by their department.
Finally, the C: Change the Culture. We need to stop shaming and/or punishing individuals who are seeking help. Some elements of the culture in uniformed services are deeply ingrained and are likely to never change. That’s okay. But there are some aspects of that culture that we’ve described earlier that simply must change if we are to break down the walls of stigma that prevent people from getting help when they need it.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundations have been consistently publishing information and guidelines for the past 5 years, at least, on how departments need to proceed to take better care of the mental wellness needs of their personnel. Agency leaders need to do a better job of identifying and implementing solutions that will work for their people.
Silence isn’t strength and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. That’s why Call for Backup exists – to remind us that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way. There is help, there is hope, and we are here for you. If you’re struggling and need some help, it’s time to call for backup. You can reach us by sending a message to m.me/callforbackup.org/.