I’m watching the super bowl and as always, enjoying the ads. I appreciate the spirit behind Verizon’s salute to our first responders. There is, however, an untold story that needs to fully surface and the reasons why the story stays buried need to be explored.
Research has increasingly shown off the charts rates of PTSD, Depression, Addiction (most notably alcohol and opiates) and suicide amongst EMTs, firefighters, police, ER staff, and military personnel.
The simple truth is we’re no supporting those who put themselves in harm’s way for us because for them to report their struggles is to put their careers in jeopardy.
Those who are regularly subjected to trauma will risk missing out on promotions and job security by admitting to residual effects. Those who save the lives of an addict overdosing are likely to be removed from their positions by virtue of admitting a substance use disorder.
It’s more than stigma. It’s the cost of impossible expectations and standards: Please walk into a burning building, the scene of a horrible accident or even a war zone. Do this regularly throughout your career. Always walk out unscathed. Never fail.
Fall from grace and we’ll be sure to crucify you. Every time a police officer is arrested for OUI it’s front page news. Be less than completely courteous in your service, we’ll be sure to complain. Do everything right and we’ll be vaguely grateful at best.
A high percentage of doctors and lawyers have private treatment centers that are readily accessible to them. It’s a contingency put in place by their professional organizations in simple recognition that high pressure jobs often lead to mental health problems and substance use disorders. They’re whisked away under the auspices of an unspecified “medical condition” with no questions asked. First responders deserve no less.
We need administrative leaves and Employee Assistance Plans (EAP)s on steroids. EAPs allow folks to get short term help without a diagnosis and without anything reported to their employer. We need to provide treatment opportunities such that those we entrust are not seen entering a treatment facility by members of their communities or colleagues.
So, no, our thanks is not enough. You are all heroes and you deserve as many safety nets as possible.