Every day, emergency responders face stressful and disturbing situations, involving traumatic injury and death. Frequent exposure to these critical incidents and other occupational stressors can place us at heightened risk for:
- Anxiety and depression
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Strained social relationships and divorce
- Decreased performance
- Post-traumatic symptoms (sleep problems, flashbacks, heightened reactivity)
- Suicide (Our suicide rate is almost double that of the national adult average, and far more emergency responders die by suicide than in line of duty deaths.)
These outcomes can compromise our abilities to be there for our brothers and sisters in uniform, and to protect and defend our communities. Yet, there are not enough resources that support and reinforce the mental wellness of emergency responders across all sectors. Disconnected efforts, limited funding, and a shortage of behavioral health experts who can meet our unique needs must be addressed.
Beginning in 2016, representatives from the emergency responder community in Aurora, Colorado teamed up with the National Mental Health Innovation Center at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. We have united representatives across Colorado from law enforcement, EMS, fire, and dispatch, as well as therapists and other experienced support professionals, to form a core group motivated to address these issues. As a result, the first attempt to mobilize mental wellness efforts across emergency responder sectors in Colorado emerged and the ResponderStrong™ organization was born. From 35 members in August 2016, the initiative has now grown to more than 500 members.
ResponderStrong is committed to the notion that mental resiliency is vital to the overall performance and wellbeing of emergency responders from recruitment through retirement, as well as to their families, and the people and communities they serve. Functioning as an umbrella entity, we are responsible for creating an accessible network of existing resources, identifying and filling the gaps, creatively leveraging and amplifying existing expertise, and brokering partnerships to address unmet needs. Since our inception, we have:
- Selected three initial arenas of focus –leadership, mental health supports, and systems – and established action-oriented work groups for each
- Worked to identify and actively recruit any absent or underrepresented voices
- Conducted a statewide survey of leaders regarding the state of responder mental health
- Published the results: “Taking Care of Our Own: Mental Health Among Colorado Emergency Responders”
- Initiated an inventory of existing resources for emergency responder mental wellness
- Created a Crisis Text Line partnership for emergency responders
Building upon this foundation, we continue to move forward supporting responders and their families!
Thoughts, questions, or interest in joining? Please contact info@ResponderStrong.org.