A focus on mental wellness for first responders

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When people witness or experience some kind of trauma, it can have a big impact on their mental health. First responders have a front row seat to all kinds of trauma; how they’re dealing with it is this week’s Mental Wellness Wednesday.

“You’re hearing things, you’re seeing things and it can get pretty graphic,” Mental Health Therapist Stacy Norton with the Boys and Girls Home said.

“You never forget those things when children have died or been severely injured those things will stay with you for probably ever,” Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said.

Sheriff Drew has experienced many traumatic scenes in his 38 years in law enforcement, but how he handles it has changed over the years.

“I think about when I started, they’d just pat you on the shoulder and say ahh they’ll be another day you’ll be ok.  We’ve gotten a lot better, we recognize things,” Drew said.

Law enforcement, firefighters and EMTS around Siouxland now work together to help support each other through difficult days.

“When we have an incident that is very traumatic…they’re able to get together and they talk and I’m sure just get through some strong emotions,” Drew said.

“I think its really important for people in that field to have people they can talk to and get it out immediately so you’re not keeping that in,” Norton said.

Mental health professionals say first responders like to turn to each other to work through mental health challenges because they understand the emotions their co-workers are dealing with and know how to recognize when something might be wrong.

“If you have post traumatic stress you have to look for signs of distress where there’s a sense of danger, may have flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and avoidance of the situation or the trauma, so they might avoid people and places that are reminders of that event,” Norton said.

“In this job, often we think that we don’t need it, but unless you have someone you can talk to and vent and share with, there’s a lot of things that get bottled up that you could start having some medical issues from that,” Drew said.

Sioux City Police have also started mandatory mental health training called ‘A Guide to Survive,’ learning how to recognize signs of mental health issues in themselves and others.

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