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INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC SAFETY ASSOCIATION
Together we are stronger

Public safety peer support: A beneficial solution for mental health wellness

17 Aug 2021 9:58 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Juan Pereira Volunteer First Responder with Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support, IPSA member

Public safety personnel (e.g., border patrol, telecommunicators, corrections officers, firefighters, emergency personnel, ambulance crews, law enforcement and frontline medical workers) are frequently subjected to various psychologically traumatic events (PPTEs). These events include witnessing violent behavior and moments of accident. Other employment constraints that may impact public safety mental health include shift work, tight scrutiny, occupational stigma, intimidation and harassment.

Regardless of the high prevalence of exposure, few scientifically validated strategies and programs are in place to prevent post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSIs) in public safety.

Anxiety and depression, melancholy, physiological reactivity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide ideation and attempts, and regressive survival techniques, such as drug and alcohol usage or avoidance can all result from PPTE interactions.

Public safety personnel deserve medication and services that are efficient, timely and cost-effective. This article investigates peer support as a viable technique for first responders who have PTSD and operational stress injuries in the public safety sector. Although many businesses offer mental health resources, stigma and concerns about confidentiality can hinder public safety personnel from taking advantage of these services.

Peer support groups

Public safety personnel are more inclined to communicate their sentiments and problems with someone who has gone through comparable situations, like firefights, than with people who have not.

Peer support groups rely on experienced counterparts to form a beneficial bond with people who have endured terrible events by providing empathic and behavioral assistance, support, and optimism.

A physician specialist or a colleague can lead the support group approach. Gatherings typically comprise only 10 to 15 individuals and regularly assemble, such as once a month, to enable and provide a welcoming forum for engaged conversation. Individuals may be members of a weekly meeting session or be eligible to join on a drop-in basis, depending on the organization's setup.

Some organizations serve a diverse community, while others target a specific subgroup, such as women or individuals with disabilities. Engaging in a social or peer support group can encourage people to trade healing and survival skills with others going through the same thing. Group sessions can also be utilized to initiate a one-on-one dialogue with an expert or group figurehead.

Support for operational stress injury program coordinators, for example, meet with RCMP workers and members one-on-one to address their issues and provide information about pertinent recovery and surviving choices. As a result, these support groups are valuable since many people feel better after airing their concerns, issues, and experiences and discussing them.

This support group effort uses similar experiences to foster connection, decrease discrimination and create a long-term platform for receiving aid and sharing information about assistance programs and constructive recovery and survival skills. Simply by providing a place for discussion, support group activities can promote awareness and reduce discrimination among the intended demographics.

Because of similar circumstances, peer support group members "converse in similar dialect" as those they are aiding, promoting an atmosphere of sincerity and trust. As a result, group members are more likely to notice changes in a member's behavior and manner. Social support groups are also vital for organizational coherence and management competency, both required for PTSD rehabilitation.

Stigma reduction

Peer support groups, through a national strategy for OSI, can encourage first responders and the public to talk about mental and emotional wellbeing and the risks that come with it to raise awareness and make it acceptable. According to BC First Responders Mental Health, these program participants and champions may have a better understanding, awareness, and commitment to mental wellbeing. This understanding of the situation is based on an individual's past, encounters with a significant friend or colleague, or previous success in establishing organizational culture. Therefore, these advocates can inspire and motivate their peers while providing social support by raising awareness of mental and emotional wellbeing.

Integrity and trustworthiness are required to establish fruitful support group connections and develop healthy peer-to-peer dialogues. Support groups benefit individuals, peer supporters, health care providers, and the greater community. This service supports the member by broadening the spectrum of social interactions, offering information to encourage healthy adjustment, survival, healing activities, and providing information on possibilities outside the direct peer partner. Conversely, peer supporters can feel empowered by assisting a peer while strengthening their self-confidence and resilience.

Society learns from a person's participation in a counseling support group, whether it is individual themselves or the individual's relatives, family, and friends. The benefits are healthy connections and well-equipped people to regulate their emotions.

Joining a support group allows people to be more effective without interruptions caused by depression, sadness, drug misuse, addiction, and dependency.

Additional interventions

Various separate interventions have been devised as highlighted by International Public Safety Association. Most initiatives include a wide range of peer support and psychiatric therapies aimed at helping people in distress. The activities and accompanying assessments have differed widely in research methodology, intended audience, length of education, scheduling of programs, results evaluated, and follow-up schedule.

Nonetheless, the interventions provided can be classified as peer support and crisis-focused mental and emotional therapies.

About the Author

Juan Pereira received his education background in Police Foundations from Centennial College. He is a student at Wilfred Laurier University working on his BA in Criminology and Policing he hopes to complete his bachelor’s and to dive into his Master of Public Safety with Wilfred Laurier University. He has seven years experience as a volunteer first responder in various public safety organization. He has also been a volunteer with Police Organizations and Crime Stopper Programs. He also has taken on Youth Coordinator Positions and Youth mentorships with other organizations. Email him at  juangregoriopereira19990@gmail.com.

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