Supporting First Responders and their Families
The First Responder coalition exists to ensure the optimum mental health and psychological health and safety of all first responder organizations and employees as well as family members of employees and retirees. The Needs Assessment reflects Priority #2 of this coalition: The coalition will work together to develop strategies and programs to address the continuum of mental health issues known to impact First Responders and their families. It contributes to the objective: Assess the need for mental health support services among immediate family members of First Responders and develop and/or implement evidence-based strategies to meet those needs.
First Responder Families Needs Assessment was open from March 13 – May 31, 2019. 2,691 people responded to the 16-question survey. The results of the survey are below.
Most survey responses were from a current spouse or significant other of a first responder. Other responses came from children, parents and friends of first responders. Survey respondents also represented other former spouses or significant others, other family, spouses of deceased first responders and individuals completing the survey on their own behalf. Those completing the survey for themselves were not included in the analysis that follows.
The first responders in survey respondent’s lives represented: EMS/ Paramedic (34%); Fire Service (34%); Police/ Law Enforcement (27%); and other (5%). The other category included: communications/ dispatch; corrections; nurse; other community (mental health, social work, Children’s Aid, etc.); other emergencies (coast guard, search and rescue, fire medic, etc.); and, tow truck operator.
The majority of family members completed the survey based on a first responder who worked full-time (76%). This was followed by volunteer, and part-time first respondents, respectively. Some first responders were also off on leave, retired, deceased, students, not working, and part-time working full-time hours. Part-time first responders were most likely to be EMS/ Paramedics, while firefighters were most likely to be volunteers. Part-time roles were most likely to be filled by first responders with <5 years of service.
First responders whose family members completed the survey were most likely to work 11-15 years, followed by 6-10 years, 16-20 years, 26 or more years, 3-5 years, 1-3 years, 21-25 years, and less than 1 year. Paramedic/ EMS were more likely to have fewer years of service. Fire Service was the most likely to have over 26 years of service.
8.75% of first responders whose family members completed the survey were in the military. Police/ Law Enforcement were most likely to have served in the military.
Less than 3% of respondents were not at all concerned about the impact of the first responder role on the mental health of the first responder in their life. Nearly 85% were somewhat, moderately, or extremely concerned. The amount of concern about the impact of the first responder role on the mental health of the first responder increased steadily through early and mid-career. It peaked at 16-20 years of service (91% somewhat, moderately, or extremely concerned), and declined slightly in later years.
Survey Question: How often are you observing the following behaviours or symptoms in the first responder in your life?
Concerns about behaviours and symptoms were generally greatest at 16-20 years of service. The level of concern increased at 11-15 years leading up to the peak. Family members of those with 26 or more years of service were more concerned than those with family members of those with 21-25 years. This pattern is also seen in the substance use category and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Family members observe substance use or addictive behaviours in the first responder in their lives, with the most common being alcohol use (23% always or often). Alcohol and marijuana use was most concerning to family members of full-time first responders. We have not compared this data to the general population.
The survey asked family members if the first responder in their life experienced any symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress for at least one month following a traumatic call/ event. Family members were most likely to report difficulty sleeping and being easily irritated or angered; followed by emotional numbness; re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares; difficulty concentrating; and, feeling jumpy or on edge.
Over 43% of family members were somewhat, moderately, or extremely concerned that the first responder role is having a negative effect on their relationship. Concern about the impact of the first responder role on relationships was greater for family members of full-time first responders (47.21% versus 28.98% and 27.80% for part-time and volunteer, respectively).
Over 50% of family members were somewhat or very interested in receiving support for their own resilience and mental wellbeing.
If you are currently experiencing mental health concerns, contact your Employee Assistance Provider or Peer Support Team.