By Amy Morgan, MSC
Even the best team leaders have moments of wondering if their team is really ready for the next critical incident. In the line of duty, whether it be public-safety like law enforcement or emergency response, or an industry with potential for dangerous accidents like construction or oil and gas, there will be the inevitable critical incident on the job. These can result in physical injury or even fatality, but also in a more difficult to detect, and often long-lasting, other type of injury.
Post-Action Strategic Debriefing addresses a critical incident immediately after, using a process devised from several different proven techniques - the military's after-action review, critical incident stress debriefing and counseling & therapy intervention techniques. This process focuses on preventing trauma effects from the incident as well as creating positive momentum for the team to be stronger, more united and more mentally healthy following the incident.
Physical, mental preparedness
More importantly, though, is being prepared for an incident. We all know and understand how important good physical health can be when facing a physical difficulty. Someone who is exhausted and weak, possibly ill, will not be able to fight off an attacker like another who is strong, well, and in good, conditioned, physical health.
Mental health and emotional health are equally important, and it is widely believed that the three are closely related and affect each other. Someone who is mentally unhealthy, such as having a stress disorder or addiction, will also most likely have related physical illness (ulcers, liver illness, etc.) as well as emotional illness.
The best way to get your team, and the individuals on it, best prepared for any type of oncoming attack is to get them healthy. Physical health and strength are important.
Mental health follows the same guidelines, but deals with mental capacity and the brain's ability to function well. If someone is able to think fairly clearly, cope with regular life situations, including stressors and challenges, be flexible with his thinking, and solve basic problems by thinking of viable solutions, then he or she is probably considered to be in a good state of mental health. Based on these guidelines, we can also understand the meaning of emotional health.
If someone is able to function well emotionally, this means they are in good control of their emotions and also the behavior that frequently accompanies our emotions. If a life challenge arises, an emotionally healthy person will manage his emotions through the challenge, and then will have some resilience and bounce back to his normal emotional level pretty quickly after the challenge is resolved.
Building mental strength
We know how to strengthen our bodies physically. How do we strengthen mental and emotional health? It's important to try to achieve a balance by lowering stress and increasing positive activities. Participating in positive activities like exercise, fun, hobbies, doing good deeds for others, taking the time to enjoy family and friends, and positive thinking overall. Positive activities like these can release endorphins (chemicals) into your system, aiding your ability to feel less pain and to have controlled emotions.
Endorphins are chemicals that originate in different parts of the body like the brain and nervous system, the spinal cord, and the pituitary gland. They work as neurotransmitters, connecting to the opioid receptors in the brain that are mostly responsible for blocking pain and controlling emotion. These endorphins are naturally created by the body and work just like a narcotic such as heroin or morphine. The endorphins in the body are able to block pain, but also create feelings of pleasure.
It is believed that our neurotransmitters can be “trained” to connect better, helping us to be stronger emotionally, just like bodies can be trained physically to function better. The theory is that if an individual is depressed, emotionally imbalanced or negative, the neurotransmitters are not connecting properly. Imagine a spark between two items that just isn’t connecting – the spark misses the second item and never connects the two. This is how neuro transmitters work, sort of – when one is thinking positively and functioning in good mental and emotional health, the neurotransmitters are connecting.
Importance of optimism
The training of these connections then is by purposely making the neurotransmitters connect, training them to then do this on their own. The more positive thoughts one focuses on, whether reading them, repeating them, or just continuously focusing on positives all day long, the more often the neurotransmitters are connecting. The more they connect, the more they learn to naturally connect.
The more endorphins released, and the better the neurotransmitters are connecting, the more mentally and emotionally healthy the individual.
Side of effects of pessimism
Not having good, strong emotional and mental health can affect an individual by making them more prone to illness, more susceptible to emotional outburst of anger, fear or irritability. It can also lead to substance abuse, hopelessness and a disintegration of relationships, jobs, and the ability to function normally in society.
By strengthening the emotional and mental health, one becomes more resilient and better able to cope with stressors that arise. This makes for less unpredictability, better focus, and on the job, fewer accidents.
If your team is strong physically, mentally, and emotionally, they will better react and respond to any incident.
Ms. Morgan is an instructional designer, trainer and strategist via Academy Hour, a training provider offering courses to law enforcement, first response teams and business groups. She is pursuing a Doctorate of Education degree with a specialization in curriculum and teaching, has earned a Master's degree in Counseling, and holds a Bachelor's of Science in Behavioral Sciences. She previously served as the Training Officer for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and as an Instructional Systems Designer and Trainer for the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, she currently serves as the corporate training developer for DC-based Changeis, Inc., a federal contract services provider.
Ms. Morgan writes/publishes therapy resource workbooks & training materials, and serves as a subject matter expert and presenter of leadership & mental health training sessions for the International Public Safety Association. Ms. Morgan also serves as a curriculum developer and instructor of mental health courses for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training in Oklahoma. She is a certified trainer for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), and is trained as a QPR (Question Persuade Refer) trainer as well as a Crisis Prevention Institute Non-Violent Physical Crisis Intervention trainer. Additionally, she is Oklahoma Supreme Court certified as a civil mediator, and she has achieved Mensa membership status.