Canaan, CT – When tragedy strikes, first responders – firefighters, police officers, military personnel, emergency dispatchers, and EMTs – arrive on the scene to keep people safe. However, over time, this repeated exposure to danger, chaos, and even death can take its toll on the mental and physical health of the men and women charged with protecting us. To assist those who put their lives on the line every day, Mountainside is providing free First Responders Support Groups, offering them a safe space to share experiences and receive support from their peers as well as licensed mental health professionals.
“Many first responders experience an increased sense of alertness, which can make them constantly feel like they are on edge,” says Amy Sedgwick, Executive Director and Clinical Director at Mountainside. “They may suffer from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other symptoms of acute anxiety, which can make it difficult for them to focus and can contribute to long-term depression. The intensive nature of their work, coupled with stress, can also increase their risk of developing a substance use disorder.”
PTSD is not only caused by traumatic events, such as the Sandy Hook shooting in Newton, CT, but also by serious work-related injuries and difficult investigations, such as those dealing with abused children. Research from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress shows that the rate of PTSD among first responders is estimated to be between 15 and 30 percent. A Clinical Psychology study reports that about 50 to 66 percent of people diagnosed with PTSD also struggle with addiction. Alcohol and drugs may provide a temporary relief from PTSD symptoms and help a person avoid traumatic memories. However, as the substance wears off, symptoms often worsen, taking a toll on overall well-being.
An additional risk of PTSD includes suicide, with a 2018 white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation revealing that first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. While suicide rates in Connecticut are some of the lowest in the country, they’re on the rise, a 2016 Center for Disease Control and Prevention report found. According to the report, the state’s suicide rate rose nearly 20 percent between 1999 and 2016, with first responders at a ten times greater risk compared to the rest of the population.
At the First Responders Support Group, participants will be able to connect with others and gain the knowledge they need to deal with the stress and trauma in a healthy way. The meetings will be led by a licensed clinician with specialized trauma training. The group will meet on Wednesday, January 29 from 6:30-7:30 pm at Mountainside Wilton and Thursday, January 30 from 6-7 pm at the main campus in Canaan, CT. For more information, please visit: mountainside.com/support-groups.