How can we help?

There is much that we can do even without having psychological training. Help can be provided in five major regards, amongst others:

The provided outline includes community as well as public policy solutions.

Firstly, the community solutions suggest better information and communication with the human environment surrounding the first responder – at the workplace, with family and friends, the individual themselves.

Family and friends can be the first to express concern about symptomatic behaviour. They are the ones who can notice sleep deprivation, substance abuse, nightmares or disengagement with community.[1] In view of this, they should be encouraged to share concerns and clearly communicate observations. They should use this to motivate an individual to seek mental health assistance and help them understand that this will not affect their job as there’s nothing more important than personal health.[2] The major risk here is that any family member or friend may face the ‘community of toughness’ attitude where a response “I am fine!” puts a rapid end to any conversation. They must be adamant to get passed that if they feel the individual is showing concerning symptoms.

Similarly, at the workplace colleagues should be encouraged to keep an eye on each other and share concerns about behaviour change and other symptoms of mental health complication. One solution suggested by academic research is the introduction of a buddy system which couples first responders in teams of two where each person is made responsible for keeping an eye on their peer’s mental health.[3] In case one recognises symptoms of PTSD or other mental health complication they should reach out to the family of the first responder to double check their observations and consequently advise them to seek mental health treatment. Naturally, such a system should come together with more information about mental health provided by management.

The individual themselves are the best indicator for their personal mental health. They should be encouraged to signal concern whenever they notice any symptoms of mental health complication. The individual is the one who can best judge if they are depressed or if they have difficulties to concentrate. This is the case especially with symptoms which are not noticeable by others such as suicidal contemplation or thoughts about hurting themselves or others.

In the group of public policy solutions, we can place better mental health services and wider deployment of stress management tools.

Better mental health services imply better access to treatment opportunities, more awareness about mental health risks and regular monitoring of mental health. This can be achieved when management speaks regularly about mental health risks and the importance of pursuing timely treatment.[4] Furthermore, placing a mental health expert in proximity to first responders (e.g. in precincts or local stations) is a good way to provide a comfortable environment to share concerns.[5] In this group we can include also Employee Assistance Programmes which offer better access to mental health treatment also outside the workplace.[6] Some studies show that such programmes may ultimately lead to shortening of public expenditure despite seeming costly at first – they contribute to less expenditure for crisis management when mental health complications have went so bad that early retirement or other radical measures become necessary.[7]

The wider deployment of stress management tools ultimately leads to better mental health of employees as well. Module 1 addresses in detail Critical Incident Stress Management as an instrument to minimise the impact of critical incidents, encourage a natural recovery process and ventilate emotions.[8] It may include guidelines on what symptoms an individual may experience later on and how they can address them. It is a good way to establish if further mental assistance will be needed.[9] Most importantly, however, it is conducted by trained professionals which implies that the wider deployment of adequate stress management tools is a public policy measure.

Within this part, educators may seek the active engagement of the course participants by asking what their views and ideas on remedies and measures are.