Mental Health for First Responders and Essential Workers

May 21, 2024

We all rely on first responders in our times of crisis. Police, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders have incredible jobs that can be very demanding, leading to stress in the mind and body. First responders are at increased risk of post-traumatic stress (PTS), depression, and suicide. Therefore, managing and preventing their stress is crucial to the well-being of our communities. This week’s article will focus on the mental health of first responders and share ways to support the first responders in your family and your community.  


Stress injuries can be caused by several factors, including: 

Wear and Tearfatigue due to a buildup of stress from various sources over time without necessary rest and recovery. 

Inner Conflict–a moral dilemma due to behaviors or witnessing behaviors that violate moral values.  

Life Threattrauma due to an experience or exposure to intense injury, horrific or gruesome experiences, or death.  

Lossgrief due to the loss of people, things, or parts of oneself.  

Stressors are certainly abundant for first responders, but there are ways to combat them and reduce the impact that distressing events have on the body and mind. 


Stress First Aid (SFA): Resources for Health Care Workers and Others 

SFA is a framework developed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to improve recovery from stressful situations. The goal of the framework is to identify stress in self and others over time and not just after a critical incident, to help reduce the likelihood that stressors become long-term problems. It is useful for both crises and ongoing care. Resources have also been developed for other occupation groups. Each SFA Manual and other information are listed below. 

Simply, the framework of SFA is made up of Core Actions, which are Check, Coordinate, Cover, Calm, Connect, Competence, and Confidence. The cycle begins with the onset of stressors that inhibit function and cause distress; however, each Core Action works together to reestablish wellness.    


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the following self-care practices for first responders:  
  • Limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts. 

  • Work in teams and limit the amount of time working alone. 

  • Write in a journal. 

  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences. 

  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques. 

  • Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise. 

  • Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no.” 

  • Avoid or limit caffeine and the use of alcohol. 

Remember, it is not selfish to take breaks, and the needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being. Coping with stress will help you stay well so you can contribute your best efforts to your team. 


For Professionals