First responders and professionals in the justice/public safety see a lot — and deal with a lot. First responders see the horrors of situations. Police officers see the worst humanity creates… all up close, in real, living color, with no protective barriers.
That kind of "up close and personal" relationship can take a toll on even the best justice professionals.
- discusses the meaning and sources of officer strength,
- examines what effects a challenging environment can have on one’s health,
- and highlights how to build and maintain strength and resilience for individuals and teams.
(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar topic is about “Staying Strong in a Challenging Environment.” Can you give us a sense of what this means? In particular, when you talk about resilience?
Amy Morgan: Staying strong starts with being strong. I relate this a lot to when we get physically ill, and we have to then work so hard to get well again – medication, rest, etc. If we’re already worn down and overly tired, or in some other way weakened or susceptible, we get sick much more easily. My focus, of course, is mental health, so I combine three aspects of health – physical health, mental health, and emotional health. If one area is weakened, the other 2 will suffer. For example, if you are dealing with ongoing (mental) stress at work, it’s going to affect you emotionally – maybe causing resentment, anger, etc.; and may also affect you physically – perhaps with symptoms like high blood pressure, headaches, exhaustion. If we can stay strong in all three areas, then our resilience is stronger when something difficult does come our way.
JCH: First responders and officers have to deal with SO much. And I could imagine that “taking care of yourself” could start to sound like every other piece of health care we all get in society… like “lose 10 pounds,” or “find ways to reduce our stress.” But first responders really are in a different category, given what they do and what they can see/experience on the job. What are potentially the long term effects on a first responder’s health if they’re not taking care of themselves?
Amy: Well, I’d go back to the importance of staying strong so that you’re better able to handle what comes your way. If we have a first responder who is dealing with a lot of stress at home, which is disrupting sleep, maybe causing exhaustion, that responder will not be the strongest and most resilient when it comes time to respond. If a first responder continuously sees trauma and experiences difficult situations, and never takes the time for the self-care afterward, the effects will gradually compound, building little by little into some sort of end effect. This could be depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, anger, and others. When these issues gradually build, the resilience of this person is also gradually diminishing. Those in this field generally do not want to admit that their job is getting to them, and they want to appear as if they’re handling it just fine, so they don’t get help, and they’re holding it all in, which doesn’t provide them any care or treatment at all. Humans just aren’t built to take continuous stress or trauma without it having a negative consequence.
Humans just aren’t built
to take continuous stress or trauma
without it having a negative consequence.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar?
Amy: There’s a stigma in public safety that it’s a sign of weakness to not immediately bounce back from an incident and just keep going, or if someone asks for help then they aren’t fit for their job. This just simply isn’t a reasonable expectation. Those who are leaders in these career fields – justice, law enforcement, first response – need to be the first to step up and acknowledge that there is a clear benefit for everyone when these individuals receive continuous care for dealing with the things they see every day. Any team leader, particularly those managing teams whose purpose is to protect others, most likely wants the strongest and most-prepared, ready-to-respond team. The best way to do that is to take care of the individuals on that team, giving them all the tools necessary to stay strong, stay resilient, and be at their best on an ongoing basis. This particular webinar shows the types of negative effects that can happen without giving attention to these things, and also shows how to manage challenging environments regularly so as to be on a perpetual road to rebuilding, regaining strength, and maintaining resilience.
“We’re all very empathetic toward our patients,
but how many show empathy toward our peers?
We need to understand that it’s not a weakness to ask for help.
In fact, it’s a strength—
asking for help is a tool that allows us to do our job more effectively.”
Vince Savoia, Executive Director, The Tema Conter Memorial Trust and former paramedic
To attend, "Staying Strong in a Challenging Environment," click here.