First Responders Put Themselves Last When It Comes to Mental Health

With all of the tragedy around us everyday, from workplace violence, random shootings, to everyday car accidents, first responders are there to help others—and always ready to act at a moment’s notice. But it is easy to minimize the toll that it takes on first responders. We often think of them as heros, and they are, but they are also just human beings like our neighbor, sister, brother, mother, father, close relative or friend. They are constantly being put to the test. 

Doug Round"Working in these conditions for prolonged periods can have negative effects on a person, especially if the employee does not practice self-care," says Doug Smith, a counselor and Employee Assistance Program expert with Ulliance.


People in first-responder positions—such as EMTs, ER staff and firefighters—are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than people in other positions. They are also more likely to attempt or commit suicide than those in other professions.

“The nature of the job doesn’t allow for much time to deal with personal issues, as many positions are understaffed,” Smith says. “First responders are also human beings, and the human person can take only so many traumas, intensity and difficult challenges before something is bound to give.”

And since asking for help is often misperceived as a weakness or a flaw, symptoms of depression or suicidal tendencies can go unnoticed or be ignored.

Here are three tips to care for our first responders:

1. Create a caring culture.

Smith says HR professionals can help prevent some of these issues before they arise by creating a culture where employees know they have somewhere to turn and someone to turn to. He says it is important to not just have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place.

2.  Openly promote the help services.
Make it easy and non-threatening to access help services by actively promoting and widely sharing the EAP phone number, making fliers available and having representatives conduct orientations.

“It’s important to create a supportive culture, from leadership to brand-new employees, that will foster an environment that is conducive to discussion, and one that helps each other with issues,” Smith says.

3.  Know distress signs.
HR professionals and managers can help foster this supportive culture by being aware of the signs of depression and the warning signs of a suicide attempt, such as:

  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Lashing out at people
  • Going from an introvert to an extrovert (or vice versa)
  • Severe mood swings

Smith says it’s best to address these signs immediately by pulling that employee aside and asking them what they’re experiencing—and then remaining involved after that first conversation.

If the manager knows the employee has had a significant emotional or traumatic event, Smith says it is best to monitor the employee and offer the EAP as a resource to help. An EAP can be a powerful tool for employees who are facing severe depression or suicidal thoughts, especially because the service is confidential and available 24-hours a day.

Here's how we can help

EAPs can also offer critical onsite support following a traumatic event. They can help first responders and survivors process a difficult situation and remind them that they have a resource whenever they need it.

Many companies turn to Ulliance experts for support in creating effective Employee Assistance Programs to support employee mental health. Ulliance offers programs designed to enhance the ability of your employees to balance their personal life with their work life, improving your business’ productivity in the process. How can we help you? Visit, or call 866-648-8326.

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