In my webinar, Fit for Duty, I shared that “I thought I was OK, until I woke up half drunk, in a blood-covered flight suit.”

In the webinar I explain the causes and impact cumulative stress disorder has on EMS professionals everywhere. More importantly, I provide information for those affected on where to find help, along with tips peers can provide to support their fellow first responders.

Cumulative stress disorder is defined as various stress factors or events that continually build up to eventually decrease one’s mental and emotional health.

Your health as a provider is a priority for your organization. When you understand cumulative stress disorder, you can show your colleagues how much you value them and how much you care about this growing epidemic.

And first responders need to realize that it’s OK to not be OK.

When assessing your personal health, you should first recognize the warning signs and accept your current condition. Be sure to take time periodically to assess your personal health.

Here are some quick self-help tips to begin:

  1. Ask yourself “Am I OK?” This will help you recognize your feelings and initial warning signs.
  2. Pay close attention to your self-care and your physical and emotional responses to your surroundings. Do they feel off?
  3. If you answered yes to No. 2, try box breathing. If more help is needed, check into outside resources for help.

How to support your fellow first responders suffering from cumulative stress

There are many ways your organization can help you and your colleagues affected by cumulative stress disorder.

One way is through a peer support network. These networks acts an informal and friendly way to encourage discussion and increase trust among coworkers when affected individuals hesitate to seek help through outside sources.

This network will encourage staff to talk and have confidence in one another. It also will give them the opportunity to discuss the everyday challenges they face while saving lives.

Starting a peer support group in your organization is an excellent way to ensure your colleagues know you care. It also offers a judgement-free space to open that line of communication.

Here are some tips to start:

  1. Do not be afraid to approach someone to ask if they are OK. If they express hesitation, do not escalate the discussion. Let your peer know you are an open ear if they would like to talk.
  2. Stay calm and non-accusatory. This is about them and their health.
  3. Do not judge your colleague based on why he/she is feeling this way.
  4. Have patience with your colleague. Take your time listening to their stories.
  5. Ensure your colleague knows you are a trusting partner to them. Maintain their confidentiality.

Talking with your colleagues about their experiences has proven helpful in preventing harmful outcomes.

By applying these tips to both your organization and within your personal profession as a first responder, you will not only create a bond with your colleagues, but also help aid the prevention of suicide among EMS professionals that experience cumulative stress disorder in their everyday lives.

Watch the recorded webinar Fit for Duty here.