Explaining mental health for first responders, their families | Columnists

If you’re related to a first aider, it’s no secret that a career in public safety takes a toll on the respondent’s mental health, especially when you serve a small, close-knit community like we have in Sheridan County. There are not enough pages in the newspaper to discuss all the emotional, physical, and behavioral aspects of being a first responder, but I thought I would touch on a few.

Serving as a first aider automatically signs you and your family on a silly, chaotic schedule. It often means missed family meals, birthdays, events, holidays and celebrations. In today’s society, the first responders, especially law enforcement agencies, face public scrutiny, and family members are sometimes confronted with tough questions from society about an agency’s position on controversial local and national issues.

At a given shift, the first responders are called to respond to emergencies throughout our county. These emergencies often require responses from all public security sectors, including law enforcement, fire and EMS. Incidents include car accidents, fatalities, including homicides and suicides, crimes against people, including children and adults, and the list goes on. Hugs are longer, and “I love you” is always sincere when a first responder goes to work, as there is always the possibility that they may not come home at the end of their shift.

Now one can say, “Well, they signed up for it.” You’re right, we did. But that does not mean that seeing tragedy on a daily basis and other stressors at work does not affect the first responders and their mental health.

We are expected to be strong for you and your loved ones at your most vulnerable time. Sometimes it may even seem like we have no feelings, but believe me when I say we do not care. Just ask my wife.

She will tell you the tragedy I have seen over the last 18 years weighs heavily on my heart. She sees it when I come home and hold our boys after a hard day, or when I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night because an incident does not escape my mind. First responders are people and there is a heart behind every badge.

Law enforcement at the local, state and national levels is aware of the psychological problems seen in first responders. Fortunately, academies and agencies across the country have taken steps to help prepare respondents and their families on how to navigate the difficulties of the profession.

We have learned over the years that the key to a successful career in public safety is prevention. Preparing first aiders and their families for what to look for mentally and physically reduces the likelihood of a mental health crisis, a failed career, and broken relationships in a first responder’s home.

Although difficulties arise in all years of service, it is a sacrifice we are all willing to make because a career in public safety is without a doubt one of the most rewarding professions. The Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the community for the continued support it shows daily toward its local first responders.

It is and will always be a pleasure to serve Sheridan County.

Lieutenant Levi Dominguez is the Sheridan County undersheriff.

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