National First Responders Day is here on Oct. 28, and it’s a time to honor the efforts of first responders everywhere who work selflessly to keep Americans safe. How can you do that? One of the best things you can do for a first responder is to appreciate the trauma and harsh reality these individuals experience daily.

Helping Our Heroes With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Addiction

Being a first responder is one of the most difficult jobs anyone can do. Paramedics, police officers, and firefighters have a sworn duty to protect others in the harshest of conditions. They are the first at the scene to witness scenes of violence, suffering and death while also having to think clearly and remain calm.

This takes a toll on many of them. The proof of this is in the data: According to the Help For Our Heroes Program, 14.6% of paramedics face PTSD at least once in their lifetime, with firefighters having a 7.3% rate and police experiencing a 4.7% rate. Rates of alcohol and drug abuse are also far higher than in the general population. According to a study cited by the Nova Recovery Center, nearly a third of firefighters suffered from alcohol addiction.

The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Don’t Suffer in Silence: Newport News, Virginia, Holds an Awareness Event for First Responders

With mental health disorders on the rise in the first responder population, there must be hope for these protectors of the people. The first responders of Newport News, Virginia with the local Critical Incident Stress Management Team are trying to help them.

A public meeting was held at the First Baptist Church with the objective of aiding first responders in dealing with the trauma and stress of their professions.

Darius Davis, a Newport News police officer and crisis negotiator, was a speaker at the event. “Suicide affects military, police and first responders 80% more than any other population,” he claims.

Joining him was city fire department Battalion Chief David Lewis. The two have something in common: Both admit to having considered suicide as a solution to their seemingly impossible levels of stress.

Lewis recalls a memory of when he was pulling into a parking lot near his fire station. While trying to cope with the stresses of his job, which included responding to calls involving shootings, stabbings, murder, and suicides, he had lost a child just six hours before. He says he felt he had “no solution” for any of the problems he was dealing with, so he “basically shut down.” Lewis kept his thoughts to himself for nearly two years before finally seeking help. Now, he works to prevent others from suffering as he did, encouraging them to reach out instead of suffering in silence.

Suicide Prevention Month ended in September, a time in which discussions around suicidal thoughts, the stigma of mental health, and the effects they have on preventing many from seeking help are encouraged. Mental health affects people from all walks of life, but in the first responder community, it’s especially problematic as many in the field don’t see any means of relief.

Helping Others First Comes at a Cost, But We’re Making Progress

National First Responders day is a time meant to show appreciation for first responders in everything they do. This includes acknowledging the realities of the job and the toll they take on these paragons of courage. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re slowly but surely making it just a bit easier for first responders to continue to selflessly serve us by paying attention to the realities of their experiences.