Secondary Traumatic Stress is a real occupational hazard for those professions that are dedicated to public safety.
As the first to arrive on scene at fire, medical, and law enforcement emergencies, first responders face repeated exposure to traumatic events and victims of trauma. Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is a natural consequence of this cumulative stress on those who rescue, assist, and protect others daily in the line of duty. First responders are vulnerable to the toxic effects of STS, which can have a lasting impact on physical and mental well-being, damage personal relationships, and hurt work performance. Workplace structure, awareness, and prevention are key to minimizing the impact of STS and coping in healthy ways.
Fighting flames in the hopes of carrying victims to safety, they also must grapple with recovering losses. Images they can’t unsee haunt them when they’re alone.
Medical incidents arise from gun violence, fire, suicides, childhood injuries and substance use disorder. EMS saves lives from overdose, and witnesses the pain that has lead people to overdose.
Facing enormous pressure in both the incident and aftermath, officers experience the stress of making split-second decisions that can have life-altering consequences.
While any first responder can experience STS, every first responder - those on the frontlines and those who lead others - can learn to recognize and respond to STS, and even create environments that prevent it. Recognizing, and creating environments that support - such as empathetic leadership - make a difference.
Community helpers that give their all during life’s most distressing moments need help and support, also. There are a variety of resources to support individual first responders and their departments alike. These tools can promote awareness, increase resilience, and connect first responders with the care and assistance they need to limit the impact of STS. By taking care of ourselves, we can better take care of each other.
Police officers are always under a microscope. You have seconds to decide how you’re going to handle something. People have months if not years to dissect every single thing you did… and that’s the kind of pressure that police officers are under now, and it’s enormous. So it’s not just the incident, it’s the aftermath. That aftermath isn’t how you personally feel, it’s how you’re going to be perceived.
…We were thinking we probably weren’t going to encounter any more live individuals, but that’s why we don’t stop…. Risk versus reward, we’ll continue until we’re sure.
Medics and EMTs are so busy. On any given day, they can take care of a shooting victim, an abused child and someone who was severely burned in a fire all in the first half of the shift. They do the job of saving lives in high stress environments. We have to always remind them to take care of themselves.
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There are professions other than fire, police, and EMS that also serve a critical role in identifying, assessing, and intervening in times of crisis. Teachers, healthcare providers, social workers, and crisis counselors are just a few of the community members who may act as a first line of defense in their daily roles. Remaining on high alert and absorbing the ongoing stress comes at an emotional cost. Anyone who works as a professional caregiver can be susceptible to STS and the toll it can take. The resources found on this website can be beneficial to any group or individual who identifies as a first responder, whether through promoting self-care and coping skills, or through supportive workplace programming.