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Facts About First Responders and Suicidality

With the role of first responders being so high-intensity, it is no shock that some of the highest suicide rates of all professions are among first responders. First responders are critical in ensuring public safety and health, meaning that people’s lives are in their hands. Every second on the job counts as a first responder, making it one of the most intense professions in the world. 

First responders may be at an elevated risk for suicide because of the environments in which they work, their culture, and stress, both occupations and personal. Regardless of the reasons why, we must understand the facts to be able to help prevent suicidality among first responders. 

The Role of First Responders

By definition, first responders are often the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency or critical incident. Another term that refers to first responders is emergency response providers. This group includes law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service clinicians, and public safety telecommunicators. These professions constantly deal with other people's trauma which can take a toll on anyone's mental stability if not handled correctly. Having a huge intake of negative emotions and trauma can produce stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue can be a result of physical, emotional/mental, and spiritual exhaustion from the demands of being a service provider. 

Statistics on First Responders and Suicidality

In recent years, the world has been challenged with several highly impactful events that have altered how first responders conduct their roles. There have been increases in mass shootings, increases in violence, more natural disasters, and a worldwide pandemic. While first responders are trained to engage in extreme conditions amid many circumstances, such training does not comprehensively address or provide resources for the post-response mental health needs that is where Dr. Michele Vecchione (Finneran) @ Vecc and Associates, LLC team comes in. 

It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and PTSD, as compared with 20 percent of the general population. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that occupational stress in first responders can be associated with the risk of serious mental health issues including hopelessness, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors such as ideation and actual attempts. 

In addition to the mental health struggles, studies have shown that alcoholism and drug abuse are extremely predominant among this group of professionals. Due to these mental health issues, as well as their compromised realities and emotional valance, the sobering statistics of higher suicide rates become more obvious. 

Preventing Suicide in First Responders

There are several research activities to better understand and prevent suicides among first responders. Most recently, in 2020, the U.S. House and Senate approved funding for the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act. This legislation directs the CDC to create a public safety office suicide reporting system to increase knowledge of these events. This data will provide opportunities to better understand suicide fatalities and the circumstances around those among first responders.

In addition to this, post-event decompression sessions, medically advised therapy, and other forms of mental healing and education are actively available to first responders. Seeking out mental health services can be crucial to overcoming the internal struggles of such a high-intensity job, and can even be the difference between life or death. 

  1. Source: Tiesman, Elkins, Brown, March, Carson (2021) Suicides Among First Responders: A Call to Action

  1. Source: Rodney Luster, Ph.D. (2022) First Responders and Mental Health: When Heroes Need Rescuing

  1. Source: Alexa Teneyck (2023) First Responders Experience Higher Suicide Rates

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