Articles

First Responders in Pandemic Times

Jul 2, 2020

Dr. Anna Lisa De Lima, Ph.D., LMHC, NCC – Program Director, Center for Women’s Recovery 

For many people, the news of a pandemic led to increasing feelings of anxiety as our health, jobs, and normal lives were left hanging in the balance.

For first responders, these concerns were only the tip of the iceberg. In the early stages of COVID-19, many first-responder departments were left defenseless without sufficient safety equipment. With overwhelming feelings of helplessness, they watched patients die in front of them, without effective treatment resources, while still worrying about their own exposure. Many nurses, doctors, firefighters, EMTs, and police officers lived for months separated from their families trying to protect them from potential exposure. There have been countless stories of paramedics living in tents in their backyards or nurses staying in hotel rooms for months on end to keep their loved ones safe. As the pandemic progressed, many first responders were quarantined, resulting in staffing shortages and requiring long shifts and excess overtime. Some lost their lives to COVID-19, and with isolation orders in place, the inability to engage in rituals to mourn and celebrate these losses left many first responders without outlets to grieve.

Some of the predictors of negative reactions to stress or trauma include a lack of control over the outcome, insufficient training, and a shortage of the appropriate equipment.

The lack of a supportive environment to de-compress because of working long shifts and being away from loved ones, leaves first responders more vulnerable to compassion fatigue and trauma responses. All of these factors have contributed to adverse reactions and an increase in the use of avoidant behaviors to cope. In the world of substance abuse and mental health treatment, what we have seen is an increase in the use of substances and a deterioration in the mental health of first responders. Most first responders are reluctant to seek out treatment due to fear of job loss, shame, and the stigma attached to substance use treatment.

During the pandemic, help-seeking behaviors are further reduced due to the desperate need for first responders and fewer treatment options being available, due to centers closing down or having patients test positive for COVID-19.

The families of first responders experience many of these emotions right alongside their loved ones, feeling helpless and unsure of how to support them. Trying to comprehend a reality that they have little hope of truly understanding, families often endure their worries in silence, not wanting to burden their loved ones further. As a family member of a first responder, all that I can do is to offer a safe, calm space where my loved one can to share with me if they need to. As a clinician, I am constantly listening and learning from our first responders about their real experiences so that I can provide the best clinical care. But the truth is, no matter how much I listen and hope to understand, I will never truly know what it is like to be in their shoes.

Hanley Center – A Path to Recovery

Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 844-501-4673.

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