If life is in danger
Beyond Blue 24/7 crisis support
Fortem Australia during business hours
It’s possible that a first responder in your life is finding things challenging.
Although the nature of a first responder’s work means they can be exposed to traumatic events, many first responders who find themselves struggling can’t put their finger on why.
It may be there was an incident at work – but nothing out of the ordinary for them – or no incident at all. There may have been additional family pressures (remembering that even pleasant events can add stress), or nothing out of the ordinary there either. Stress can build bit by bit over time, meaning that they often don’t realise they’re struggling.
People close to them, like families and friends, are usually the first to see the signs.
There are lots of ways you can support them through this.
First responders can be exposed to traumatic experiences while they’re doing their job or their volunteering duties.
That doesn’t mean they’ll become unwell. Most of the time, they’ll bounce back using their usual coping strategies and with the support of their family, friends and work mates.
At other times, recovery can be more of a challenge, and will need more support.
Different people react in different ways when they’re finding things tough, and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ reaction.
Some common signs that can alert you to the fact they might be struggling include:
When someone is acting in these ways, it’s a sign that something is going on. Try to remember that their reactions aren’t aimed at you.
If any of these signs continue for a couple of weeks or more, and these challenges are interfering with their life, a mental health issue may be developing. It’s important to encourage them to seek help.
1 Choose a time when you feel connected and have both the space and time to talk. It’s important that the conversation isn’t a reaction to frustration, disappointment or a fight.
2 Ask the person how they are. You might start with a question like, ‘How are you?’ or ‘You seem a bit quieter than usual, is
3 Listen. Make sure you give the person time to talk, without rushing off or hurrying them along. If they open up to you, it’s also important to keep an open mind, not judge them or jump in too early to fix or reassure them.
4 Express your care and concern, and try to encourage them to take action, like seeking professional help. They’re more likely to seek help if someone they’re close to has suggested it, so this is a really important step.
Lots of people refuse to get professional help at first. They might say they don’t have a problem, or that things aren’t too bad, or that they can do this on their own. Sometimes it helps to suggest they find help for their physical health concerns – like their sleeping troubles or their change in appetite – which can then lead to a conversation about their emotional wellbeing.
You can suggest they talk to their GP, their workplace support service or Employee Assistance Program, or Fortem’s clinical services.
If they still refuse to get help, continue being supportive and encouraging them to talk. If talking is hard, you can continue to support them by doing small things with them. Go for a walk, prepare and eat a meal together, or play with the kids.
5 If you’re worried about their state of mind, it’s okay to ask them directly, ‘Are you having thoughts about suicide?’
Even though many of us think that asking a question like that will put the thought into someone’s mind, it’s actually more helpful to talk about it than to ignore the idea. You won’t put someone at risk by asking them about suicide.
If they admit to thinking about suicide, continue to listen without judgement and remind them that getting help is necessary. If you think they’re in immediate danger, call:
6 Continue to support them. Ask them how they are again over the coming weeks, invite them to keep speaking with you, and continue to encourage them to take action towards getting better.
For someone who is experiencing a reaction to extreme stress or a traumatic event, having family and friends to support them is really important.
There are lots of things you can do:
Supporting someone who is going through something tough can affect your own health. You might feel isolated, uncertain, fearful, guilty, or even grief – all of this is normal.
Looking after yourself is really important during this time, so that you can stay well, and so that you can keep being a support person. Here are some ideas for taking care of yourself:
Reach out to your family and friends
Remind yourself that you don’t have to feel strong all the time, and not to feel guilty for needing to look after yourself
Take time out to do some things you enjoy
Set firm boundaries for what’s acceptable behaviour in the relationship. You can be understanding and supportive of their distress, but you don’t have to support bad behaviour.
Register for a wellbeing activity with Fortem
Access Fortem’s clinical services – we support family members as well as first responders
Speak to your GP about accessing professional support for yourself