Importance of Family – The Frontline for the Frontline

Being an active, informed and effective support

First responders are often exposed to potentially traumatic incidences and show immense resilience in the face of stress. Families of first responders travel this journey too, experiencing worries and assisting to ‘carry the load’ during times of disaster or when members are on shift or overtime.

Partners and family members often take on the lion’s share of the roles of caregiver, head of household, advocate, and primary provider. This is often a thankless task of assuming responsibility while their first responder family member is protecting and supporting the broader community in their emergency service role. But we see you, family members!

Critically, in addition to the many hats they wear and balls they juggle, the family members also play a pivotal role in the first responder’s mental health and wellbeing – often being the first point of acknowledging (sometimes subtle, but often significant) change in a first responders’ wellbeing, social connection, functioning and health.

They become the first responder to the first responder, and often they can be key to shaping mindset and early intervention engagement for their first responder family member. These pressures are not small and as such, it is vital that we support, educate and protect families of first responders, so they too can receive the care they need, and to enable them to better care for others.

When going through stressful experiences, people often turn to others around them for help, advice, and support with the hope that what is said or done will help reduce distress or improve one’s efforts to cope. Here is a list of some helpful and unhelpful support behaviours that family members, first responders and other support people can refer to.

Helpful Support Behaviours

  • Focus on the person needing support not yourself. 
  • Providing the opportunity to vent or talk – letting someone talk about their experience and listening. 
  • Being present in a helpful way – sitting with someone without giving advice. 
  • Provide comfort or care.  
  • Positive reframing and reassurance – words of encouragement of what they are doing to cope with uncertainty. 
  • Reminders of past success. 
  • Address negatives – planning for what to do in an undesirable outcome, being realistic but supportive. Talking about possibilities with family and first responders so you can plan for various scenarios. 
  • Negative validation (letting them know that their worries are valid, reasonable, and acceptable). 
  • Practical support – a tangible form of help e.g. grocery shopping, laundry. 
  • Offer helpful information or advice. 
  • Helpful downplaying – providing distractions, normalizing the situation, pulling someone away from the radio or tv if they are preoccupied with news of an incident a loved one is attending. 

Unhelpful Support Behaviours

  • Focus on own experiences not the person needing the care and understanding. 
  • Interfering in the person’s life. 
  • Intrusive concern – unsolicited advice that did not apply to the situation of recipient. 
  • Excessive worry – sharing your distress about the situation that burden the family/first responder. 
  • Unwanted positivity or optimism – unjustified confidence that the outcome would be desirable. 
  • Negativity – unwarranted pessimism or worrywarts that make the situation worse. 
  • Judgement – of fault or how one is coping. 
  • Impatience (with the situation and the person’s distress vs understanding). 
  • Unhelpful downplaying or dismissing their experience e.g. telling someone to calm down. 
  • Ignorance (lack of knowledge or understanding). 
  • Indifference. 

Behind many first responders are family and friends who need support to better care for those that keep our communities safe.

On this International Day of Families, we want to acknowledge what you do, who you are, what you contend with, and say a big thank you and offer support. Fortem has a range of services to support your family’s wellbeing and mental fitness:

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
Find out Who We Support and share this story to help us reach them.