Executive Summary

What do we do?  - We provide active listening, coordination of resources, and referrals to mental health clinicians specialized in dealing with first responder stress.  We break down barriers to getting mental health care and reduce stigmas around getting help.  We connect members to care and resources whenever they need it.

Why do we do it?  - We’ve been where many of our peers have.  We know the struggles and stressors that come with the job, and how they impact our lives.  We have experienced sorrow, stress, grief, and loss because of this job, and want to be there for others having similar experiences.  We wish someone would have told us that “it is ok to not be ok”.

Why is it important to your department?  - Law enforcement officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.  Furthermore, EMS providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the public. Studies have found that between 17% and 24% of public safety telecommunicators have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 24% have symptoms of depression.  Public safety personnel are 5 times more likely to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression than civilians.

Peer support programs reduce stigma around accessing mental health resources and allow first responders to feel comfortable approaching one another for assistance.  Providing and promoting mental health training, support, and healing helps build a stronger and more resilient workforce.

Additionally, Virginia legislation requires that your organization promote and provide peer support and mental health resiliency training in all fire, EMS, and public safety agencies.

What about EAP?  - Employee Assistance Programs are provided as a benefit to employment or volunteering within the County. While a valuable tool, EAP is a “bookend” on a spectrum of mental health services needed by first responders. EAP is thought of as a destination and not as a continual support system. EAP typically provides “contracted” clinicians that are not familiar with the first responder lifestyle and are untrusted.

How do peers help?  - Peer support programs provide peer-to-peer support, listening, guidance, and referrals on both a continual and as-needed basis.  Peers are “known” within the first responder communities and have personal experience working in the field.  They understand the challenges of the job and can oftentimes help diffuse or reduce stress simply by offering an ear in a non-judgmental and encouraging environment.

Does it work?  - Many studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that peer support is a powerful tool for empowering first responders to take control of their own mental health.  Access to “free” support systems, such as peer support programs, encourages mental wellness and fosters personal growth that would otherwise remain at a financial distance to most.  Peer support breaks down barriers to care and encourages wellness.  Read more on SAMHSA's website.

What do you need to do?  - We request that you openly support our initiatives and promote the peer support team within your agency.  We’ll handle the rest.  We would also like to have at least one member of your agency serve as a peer team member.  We will provide the training and feel that having representation from all departments will help bridge the divide between mental health and a more resilient workforce.

What’s in the future? - We envision a time when mental health resources are ingrained in the fabric of every station and agency in the County.  We look forward to a time when no member is left without a support system or a chance at accessing mental health resources due to financial burdens.  We hope to offer more comprehensive support services through community partners.

03/01/2023 - Presentation to Fire & Rescue Advisory Board