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For years, first responders have embraced formal and informal peer support. Peer support assumes that people who have similar experiences can better relate and better understand what the job is and the impact it can have on a first responder’s life. It can help to foster a sense of connectedness between individuals. Peer support reduces stigma, encourages seeking professional help and can build a more resilience-based approach to work and personal life. Studies show first responders find it easier to speak with other first responders about these topics.
Traditionally, first responder peer support was reactive and the emphasis was on members who were involved in critical incidents. Recent thinking and studies now emphasize the role of peer support to promote and encourage physical, mental and emotional well-being. Our focus is developing prevention and early intervention techniques and processes.
Research has shown that careers within public safety services are qualified as high stress jobs. This stress can occur because of the physical conditions that the job entails, but recent research has also shown a correlation with the unique, mentally taxing situations that the members are exposed to. This can be due to traumatic and repetitive calls while interacting with the public as well as organizational and family stressors. These daily interactions can produce high-stress conditions for the first responder. A Peer Support Program can help members become more successful by utilizing the tools already available to the organization and by understanding what resources are available in the community. Building and sustaining peer support in medium, small and rural departments is our focus.
Peer Support is giving and receiving help founded on the key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. (Mead et al, 2001).
Our peers are front line workers, supervisors, and chiefs. They are in law enforcement, fire service, corrections, dispatch and hospitals. We know the job because we do the job.
The essence of peer support begins with informal and naturally occurring support (Faulkner and Bassett, 2010). Peer support is the naturally occurring informal support in first responder departments that happens in the hallway, in the break room, at the kitchen table in the firehouse and in the cars of law enforcement. These are some of the functions that a Peer Supporter might do:
Peer Support is designed to allow individuals to connect through direct conversation by sharing relevant experience and knowledge. Peer Supporters are trained to actively listen and assist with navigating available resources including the mental health system, counseling services, financial services, and clergy who support first responders. Peer Supporters are also the first to know about local training related to mental health and resilience.
Peer Supporters in departments are also the link to services and outside resources after a potentially traumatic event (critical incident). While you don't have to be a trained peer supporter to call the Comms Center to request the Tri-State Peer Support team, having these connections in place and an understanding of the response process can reduce stress and ensure smooth delivery of services for the departments.
Peer Support is not a substitute for professional counseling.
Researched indicates that those who take advantage of peer support show: