What barriers do first responders face to looking for mental health treatment?

There are many challenges that first responders face when looking for mental health treatment. Broadly speaking, they can be grouped in 3 major dimensions:[1]

Cultural barriers

The first responder profession often involves a community of toughness where talking about emotional trauma is disregarded as a sign of weakness or belittled as insignificant.[2] It is important to understand that in this community resilience and bravery are respected and nobody would like to be associated with mental health complications.[3] While often times responders regard colleagues as more judgmental than they actually are, it is true that they face a catch 22 situation: a sound mental health is a prerequisite for starting a first responder career – how can then one not fear that talking about depression or substance abuse may lead to them losing their job?[4] In this context management of first responders rarely talks sufficiently about mental health risks and options for their treatment. This creates a feeling of isolation in first responders with such complications as it strips them from a forum in the margins of which they can recognise their symptoms and seek treatment.[5]

Lack of awareness

The wide public is not sufficiently informed about the symptoms or signs of emotional trauma or mental health complications. Additionally, feelings of shame, guilt or fear to talk about this cloud a person’s evaluation of the situation.[6] Finally, insufficient media attention leads to the perception that this is a very niche problem of little consequence.[7]

Pragmatic barriers

In this cluster we may include mostly the barriers related to limited access to mental health services and the high costs related to private treatment.[8] To an extent, these barriers are also the result of poor public policy which does not place sufficient importance with mental health services thereby limiting access for professionals in need.