Day after day our nation’s public safety workers put their lives on the line to keep its citizens safe—but at what cost? Law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians have some of the most physically and psychologically stressful jobs in America (consistently ranking on CareerCast.com’s annual Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs list), and over time that stress can have a serious impact on their overall well-being.
One recent study from the University of Buffalo found the everyday pressures of law enforcement put officers at risk for increased levels of destructive stress hormones—in addition to high blood pressure, insomnia, heart problems, PTSD and suicide. The same goes for firefighters and paramedics, according to research from the Eastern Michigan University School of Fire Staff and Command which looked at the effects of substantial and prolonged stress associated with both occupations.
Finding Ways to Cope with Stress
Just in the past decade experts have taken great strides with regard to increasing awareness and promoting outreach and education for public safety workers and their families concerning job-related stress; its effects on overall health; and ways to cope with stress. This includes learning how to recognize the physical signs and symptoms of stress as well as the emotional and psychological symptoms, which may include increased anxiety, irritability and depression.
One of the most important ways to combat stress is through training. Throughout their careers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics should receive ongoing and in-depth training, including critical safety and survival training, to ensure they are aware of situations they may encounter and prepared to cope with those situations accordingly. In addition to training, many public safety organizations offer counseling as well as other services and solutions through employee assistance programs.
A Model Program with Far-reaching Benefits
One program in particular--the Stress Management Model Program for Firefighter Well-Being developed by the United States Fire Administration—highlights the importance of ongoing education and provides valuable information for all public safety entities to protect the physical and mental health of their workers:
Continuing education and training within fire departments are favored by many as tools to alleviate stress. In particular, it is believed that educational programs on nutrition and diet will improve the overall health of firefighters while reducing the stressor of being overweight, a stressor that affects the health and performance of large numbers of firefighters. Similar programs for cigarette smoking have been suggested. Specific training in dealing with death, crisis and suicide are needed, and orientation programs may help recruits better prepare for the physical and psychological rigors of their new profession. In addition to recommending therapeutic or preventive services and programs, fundamental changes in existing administrative procedures and policies have been promulgated to reduce stress in the workplace, including:
A Promising Outlook
As research continues, experts hope to increase awareness and education about the significant impact of stress on public safety workers. By thoroughly examining the physical and psychological health risks and taking the necessary steps to reduce them, we can better protect those who risk their lives to protect us.
Source: Critical Information Network