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First Responders Suffering in Silence

By James Peyton, Paramedic, TCCC, Frontline Strong Administrator, Common Ground

There is a silent crisis happening worldwide. First responders are quietly suffering because of the stigma surrounding the utilization of mental health services. First responders are more likely to suffer from psychological distress due to job stress, repeated exposure to trauma, lack of sleep, physical demands of the job, lack of resources and working long hours or multiple jobs.

The community of first responders have been neglected and now they are beginning to show the consequences of such neglect. The immediacy of care is the utmost importance for all individuals suffering with a mental illness or condition.

From firefighters to police officers, EMS, dispatchers and more, first responder’s daily lives are filled with stress on levels the public can’t imagine.

With all this pressure, admitting that you need help is like a chink in your armor. They feel like they are weak and no longer have control in a job that you must remain in control at all times.


The Stigma

There is a long history of being told “suck it up,” “this is what you signed up for,” “if you don’t do it, who will,” and on and on. First responders admitting they need help often feel like they will lose their job, as well as the trust of their brothers and sisters they work with. They will turn to things like alcohol to cope with what they are going through.

First responders cope in ways necessary to keep moving forward. Their focus is on getting to the next call, often leading to compounding stress and trauma. Because they avoid discussing their mental health related concerns, seeking support is often stigmatized.

First responders are required to remain in control at all times on their job to protect and defend others. This requires a level of compartmentalizing to do their jobs. Disclosing information about their mental health can make them feel vulnerable.

First responders can develop serious mental health issues from exposure to death, grief, pain, and loss, coupled with demanding schedules, physically challenging jobs, and lack of safety and security. These factors can result in emotional trauma and, if left untreated, can lead to PTSD, suicidal ideation, and suicide.

In 2017, more firefighters and police officers died by suicide than in the line of duty. The suicide rates only climb with each coming year.

Often, first responders describe how mental health professionals couldn’t help them cope with their level of trauma. This is a red flag for a first responder and will push them away from seeking help for their mental health issues. First responders need mental health support and care that is tailored for the level of trauma they experience in their career.


Frontline Strong Together

Frontline Strong Together is a crisis line developed in partnership with Common Ground, the State of Michigan, and Wayne State University. Our mission is to support the first responders as they have been ignored for far too long.

Frontline Strong is here to break the stigma for first responders reaching out for mental health concerns. Frontline Strong operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It is staffed with civilians and first responders that have been trained as crisis specialists in first responder competencies.

The Frontline Strong crisis specialists can provide crisis intervention, resources for mental health, peer support groups, and substance use rehabilitation facilities that have been vetted and trained to be first responder focused – in addition to many other resources.

Callers are welcome to remain anonymous and know their anonymity is protected. Frontline Strong is also open to family members of first responders.

Call 1-833-34- STRONG for help or to learn more.


About James: I served a 25-year career as a first responder. I was a firefighter paramedic serving 7 years with the Walled Lake Fire Department, 18 years with the Detroit Fire Department, and 3 years on the Wayne County SWAT high risk warrant team. I have been with Common Ground since December of 2021, moving into my current position as Frontline Strong Administrator in May of 2022. I’m grateful to be given this opportunity to help my brothers and sisters that are suffering.