Mid-Atlantic Rescue Systems, Inc.

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Disasters and Distress

Any 1st responder who has helped to carry a body from a wrecked car or a fire scene, anyone who has had to face a grieving family after their loved one is pronounced, and anyone who has put so much effort into doing CPR with no success, knows the feeling of loss even when the victim had no relationship to him/her.

Many of us have had nightmares as we keep remembering the sights, sounds and smells of death and tears. Despite the superhero face we try to impress others with, we are, in the end, mere mortals — that's a sad fact we try not to face. Sometimes we need to remove the crusader capes and find a way to cope with our own needs.

"In an effort to broaden (their) reach to disaster survivors and emergency responders, the Disaster Distress Helpline has developed online peer support communities though Facebook Groups…" DDH offers trained peer support who will help to moderate group discussions. While peer support is not the same as professional counseling, sometimes it helps members realize that they are not "broken" because they feel the stress, and often they are able to share healthy coping skills by talking with others who have "been there, done that".

"All DDH Online Peer Support Communities are monitored 24/7 by a designated DDH crisis center where crisis counselors are available to talk to members who may be in emotional distress." One such moderated group on Facebook is the private group 'HEALTHCARE WORKERS IMPACTED by COVID-19' at https://bit.ly/3noL7sN. Only members can see who's in the group and what they post, so membership is totally confidential.

There are a few more support groups on Facebook, search Support plus your role (EMT, Paramedic, Firefighter) and/or need to find a listing of closed (private) groups; each is sponsored by various organizations, and each has its own rules for membership.

The mental health of first responders is always being challenged. First responders are often the first ones at a scene and not always prepared for the things they see. They are responsible for making quick decisions that are, literally, life or death options. Sometimes, through no fault of their own, things go downhill and a grief-stricken family member, an unrelated passer-by or news reporter, or even the responder himself, lays blame on the decisions made. Nearly a third of all first responders develop problems such as fatigue, depression, or PTSD, that is compared to less than 20-percent of the general population. Unfortunately, sometimes over-stressed and despondent "heroes" resort to substance abuse to try to help cope.

The New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program (NYLEAP) offers no-charge services to all law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correction officers, and dispatchers. The mission of NYLEAP is to reduce divorce, substance abuse, PTSD, stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicide. NYLEAP also offers Post Critical Incident Stress Debriefings in their geographical areas as needed as well as train other first response members in peer support to break the stigma often felt about needing help. Contact NYLEAP at (518) 593-7579 or call Confidential services locator for first responders at (615) 373-8000.

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