Guest Commentary: Focus renewed on first responders’ mental health and wellness


Dr. Anna Fitch Courie is the director of responder wellness for the FirstNet network at AT&T. Katie McEvoy is the regional director for AT&T External Affairs in Delaware.

Not many people can understand or empathize with the things first responders encounter during an emergency or even on a daily basis. Public safety service comes with great personal sacrifice, and many first responders silently carry the burden. Trauma can be difficult to discuss with others.

Delawareans don’t call 911 because they’re having a good day. Those experiences and images stay rooted in the mind and take a toll. Compared to the general population, first responders experience higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety and other mental health issues. And, in law enforcement, one study found a more than 20-year difference in life expectancy compared to the average American male.

It’s also estimated that 20%-25% of all first responders experience post-traumatic stress. And that statistic was established before the COVID-19 pandemic and the extra challenges it added to the already challenging jobs done by public safety professionals. Stress can be a protective factor in the face of life-threatening events, but too many first responders go on to internalize and ignore traumatic experiences, creating a chronic stress injury.

To tackle these issues, FirstNet established the FirstNet Health & Wellness Coalition to collaborate and coordinate across all of public safety to address the health and wellness needs of emergency responders nationwide. FirstNet, built with AT&T, is public safety’s only nationwide network created with and for first responders, including first responders in Delaware.

As public safety’s communications partner, we work closely with the women and men on the front lines and recognize the need for an array of services, tools and resources. The Health & Wellness Coalition brings together more than two dozen organizations that represent millions of first responders, and its priorities were developed from the input of over 350 first responders. These priorities include post-traumatic stress, depression and self-harm, stress management, physical fitness, resiliency and family member and leadership engagement.

One of those organizations is veteran-owned O2X Human Performance, which has teamed up with the Delaware State Police to provide first responders in Delaware with world-class mental health training through O2X. During a two-day workshop in Dover held earlier this month, first responders learned about nutrition, injury risk reduction, sleep, stress management and resilience.

We hope first responders across Delaware will take advantage of the tools and resources available to keep themselves mentally healthy. There is no better way to say thank you to all the women and men who put the lives of others before their own than to make first responder health and wellness a top priority.

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