When You Need Support
Not everyone can talk about the topics and issues that first responders encounter. You see and experience things that are unthinkable to most, and that’s why peer support is important. Your peers know what it’s like, they share your perspective, and they are ready to help their fellow responders. You are not alone.
- Safe Call Now is staffed by public safety professionals and former law enforcement officers who provide assistance, resources and support for public safety professionals and their families. Call 206-459-3020.
- Next Rung offers free peer support via talk, text, social media messaging, email, Skype or FaceTime. If you are in immediate need of help, please text “SUPPORT” to 1-833-NXT-RUNG (698-7864).
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress offers online support groups for emergency responders and health care workers.
- Hope for Emergency Responders Organization (HERO) offers a warmline, peer support and other resources for first responders, their families and their friends.
- CopLine website and 1-800-267-5463 are a confidential, 24-hour law enforcement peer support hotline.
- Center for Firefighter Behavioral Health offers resources and peer support for the occupational stress faced by firefighters.
Supporting a Peer
You’ve noticed some concerning signs that one of your co-workers is struggling, and you want to be supportive, but you don’t know if you should get involved. What can you do?
Public safety professionals depend on each other for scene management and effective response, especially when safety is at stake. This teamwork approach can also apply to mental well-being.
If you notice that a peer seems to be having a hard time, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Even if it feels somewhat uncomfortable, start a conversation. Simply asking how they’re doing lets them know you care — and they don’t have to struggle alone.
Use these tips and conversation starters to help support a peer who may be struggling.
- “Hey, that call yesterday was tough. Are you doing ok?”
- “Between the job and the usual life stress, I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure lately. Seems like you’re overwhelmed. I’ve been there. If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”
- “We’ve had some rough shifts lately. How are you sleeping?”
- “I’ve noticed that you’re drinking a lot more than you used to, and I’m worried about your health. I’m here to help you if you want to look into treatment options or make a plan to cut back.”
If your peer doesn’t want to talk about it, it’s best not to try to force a conversation. Just let them know that you care, and you’re willing to listen.
If your peer wants to talk:
- Give them your full attention.
- You understand the job, so remember to show compassion and avoid judging their behavior or responses.
- It’s easy to relate to things your peer may express, and sharing your own struggles can help with the conversation. However, be careful not to allow the conversation to focus on your own problems.
- Offer positive suggestions, but don’t try to “solve” the problem.
- Share resources and encourage them to seek additional support.
- End every conversation with hope, positivity, a plan for coping or strategies for self-care and mutual support:
- “We see some tough things, but we don’t have to let it build up. We all struggle sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”
- “Getting in a workout before each shift has helped me. You’re welcome to join me anytime.”
- “I’m glad we talked. We should check in with each other more often. It’s good to be able to share some of this stuff with someone who gets it.”
When You’re Worried About a Peer
There may be times when you feel very worried about a coworker. They may have said something that alerted you to a more serious level of concern, or perhaps joked in a manner that could be taken the wrong way. If you’re concerned about a peer’s safety, don’t hesitate to respond.
If you feel that a peer may be considering suicide, it’s important to ask the question directly. This can seem like a hard thing to do, but it consists of one simple question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
When you ask about suicide directly, it gives the person the opportunity to answer honestly and ask for help if they need it. If they say “no,” listen to what they express, and remind them that resources and support are available to help them cope and prevent an escalation of symptoms.
If they answer “yes,” do not leave them alone. Stay with them to make sure they’re safe, and call or text a crisis line for immediate support.
- Avoid judging or shaming them. It’s important to understand the pain they’re experiencing.
- Use active listening and show empathy for their situation. Encourage them to talk by asking questions and demonstrating that you’re interested in their safety and well-being.
- Ask your peer if you can reach out to a spouse, trusted family member or a friend to help support them and continue to make sure they’re safe.
- Share crisis resources and ensure your peer has access to support.
- Before leaving your peer in a safe situation, make a plan to check in with them.
- It’s important to end your conversation with an emphasis on hope and the goal of feeling better.
Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance provides a suicide self-screening questionnaire, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers additional information and research, as well as resources and personal stories.
Paulding County Fire Company 1 Stands With You
by Lt Maple, Paulding County FD
For everyone on the front lines – we are all in this together.