Developing Resilience in Public Safety: Part One
Like many around the world, public safety professionals have faced a harsh set of challenges over the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic, division amongst our communities, and numerous other issues have created increasingly difficult working conditions.
Whether it’s violence, mental and physical illness, or even staffing shortages, those that protect and serve are under extreme stress, operating in less than ideal conditions. Now, more than ever, public safety professionals need to be proactive in addressing future problems, including threats to their mental health, safety, wellness, and professional stability. In short, it is necessary to start thinking about how we can better create resilience in public safety.
To start this conversation, Prepared has partnered with the Hecht Trauma Institute (HTI) - a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides information, education, and services to empower and support people affected by trauma - to bridge the gaps in mental health and wellness resources offered to public safety professionals.
Collective success in this mission means ensuring effective operations, access to necessary technology, and broad adaptability for our systems. For the individual, it means addressing mental health issues head-on, evaluating and adjusting training techniques for new paradigms, and ensuring that each member of a given team is placed in the best position to succeed.
Dr. Kathryn Hamel, a 25-year police veteran, best-selling author of Body, Mind, & Badge: Strategies for Navigating Trauma & Resilience in Law Enforcement, and CEO of HTI, believes that the key focus areas relating to individual resilience are wellness, mental health, and agency culture. Like other challenge facing the public safety industry, these are interrelated and significantly impact each other.
While mental health and wellness tend to be individual pursuits, the collective task of building a safe and trauma-informed agency culture begins at the top with senior leadership. Agency leaders must institute programs that help team members maintain their health and wellness.
Part One: Mental Health
Public safety jobs are amongst the most high-stress, mentally taxing positions that a professional can take on. Our first responders and law enforcement officers place themselves in harm's way every day they don a uniform. According to Dr. Hamel, the average person will experience somewhere between one and five traumatic events in their lifetimes; for first responders, they may experience as many in one shift.
The average person will experience somewhere between one and five traumatic events in their lifetimes; for first responders, they may experience as many in one shift.
Witnessing a distressing emergency, providing life-saving measures, springing into action, stopping a threat, or simply the day-to-day grind of serving the community all test our first responders' mental strength and wellness. Yet, they are still expected to continue their business as a professional without skipping a beat. While public safety professionals are amongst society’s toughest individuals, everyone has a breaking point. This is where building and creating resilience through mental health initiatives and psychoeducation is essential.
Psychoeducation training is a resilience-building technique that helps to front-load the resiliency process in first responders by creating awareness of the level and type of trauma they may face. With this awareness, first responders learn that the acute stress reactions or post-traumatic symptoms experienced in the aftermath of a tragedy are normal. Normalizing responses through education and real-world examples help to validate that they are not alone and aren’t weak.
Normalizing responses through education and real-world examples help to validate that they are not alone and aren’t weak.
In an era marked by discussions about PTSD, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact that traumatic incidents can have on the psyche. Just over eight months ago,, the Justice Department announced, alongside the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), $7 million in grants for the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) Program:
“These program funds are used to improve the delivery of and access to mental health and wellness services for law enforcement through training and technical assistance, demonstration projects, implementation of promising practices related to peer mentoring mental health and wellness and suicide prevention programs.”
What does progress look like?
Never before has the issue of mental health been as prevalent and widely discussed as it is today. Destigmatization has gone a long way toward empowering individuals to seek necessary help. Additionally, industry leaders across verticals have increasingly leveraged and implemented mental health best practices to help ensure their employees’ well being.
Mental health in public safety, however, is a different beast entirely. As we discussed earlier, the potential for psychological trauma is higher in these professions. Therefore, solutions that may work for the average individual or average workplace may need to be adjusted for the scope of the public safety agency.
A 2019 piece from Jessica Dockstader, a member of the Mental Health Committee at the International Public Safety Association (IPSA), provides a succinct overview of some fundamental initiatives for agencies. These include:
- Centralized mental health resources
- Partnering with outside organizations
- Recognize the impact of understaffing
- Develop safety protocols
- Department education on best-practices
None of these are a silver bullet but together they form a practical playbook for how to attack mental health issues. The central themes that emerge from these initiatives are two-fold:
- Education and understanding
- Protocols and practice
By developing and promoting understanding within an agency, leaders can empower their personnel to take ownership of their mental health. By creating protocols and best practices, leaders provide a framework within which personnel can effectively leverage their understanding.
Be sure to check back on June 20th for Part Two: Agency Culture!
HTI provides education, information, and services to empower and support people affected by trauma. In all interactions and initiatives, HTI will take actions in line following the framework of collaboration, empowerment, innovation, diversity, inclusion, and quality.
Learn more at TraumaInst.org or by reaching out to email@example.com
Prepared is a startup company aiming to bring greater clarity and efficiency to the 911 process by providing dispatchers and first responders livestream, and other advanced data, from mobile 911 callers in real-time. Millions of 911 calls leave valuable, life-saving data on the table each year simply because our emergency operators do not have the technology to access it. By harnessing the power of existing technology, the Prepared team believes that we can create safer communities, built together.
Learn more about Prepared at Prepared911.com or by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org