Tactical Mental Health

Working in emergency services, we deal with a lot of chaos and negativity. We may respond to a suicide, a domestic disturbance or a homicide. As responders, we have a tougher skin; it’s part of the job. We are able to detach our emotions from the task at hand, usually, but there are times where that is a little easier said than done.

As an emergency dispatcher, I was always the first to have contact with whatever crisis was going on. It was my job to assess the situation, determine what was happening, where it was happening, how it was happening. I had to determine if there were weapons, violent people, threats to the responding officers, names, dates, car descriptions. I was very good at detaching my emotions, calls rarely effected me – except that one time.

I picked up the line to hear a little old lady sobbing. Her husband had collapsed. She thought he had a heart attack. I wasn’t a medical dispatcher, so I transferred the line like I always do. Usually, we just send out the fire department and disconnect the call since another dispatcher was on the line, but this time I felt compelled to stay on. I listened to the entire call in silence as she sobbed – as they gave her instructions for CPR. She continued sobbing because she wasn’t strong enough to get him flat on his back. It was devastating. He died.

DepressionThat was the first time in years of doing this work that I needed to step out of the room for a moment to collect myself. I had allowed myself to feel her heartbreak instead of just doing my job. These moments, though, happen more frequently then I allowed – especially for police officers and fire fighters because they are seeing the devastation in person; they are witnessing the tears, the fighting, the blood, the loss. Any officer that says this stuff doesn’t touch them has done a good job of locking away those emotions, but they are still there, waiting. In a way, it is good to occasionally allow ourselves to feel these emotions; it is what allows us to feel empathy for the people we are serving. Without empathy, there can’t be compassion. Without compassion, the world is just filled with violence and hate.

Mental health is almost a taboo topic in this country. It is seen as weak, or something that other people deal with, but not us. The truth is everyone must take steps to maintain a healthy mind. As emergency responders, we witness the worst of the worst and are expected to continue on, but I urge each and every one of you to consider utilizing the mental health services that are provided by the departments to maintain your heart and mind. Seeing a therapist doesn’t signal weakness, it doesn’t mean that you have a problem, it is just a place to talk about some of the traumas you have encountered. You don’t have to go in and cry and gush about “feelings,” but it’s ok if you do. They are there as a non-biased, non-judgmental ear to allow you to release that locked up box. Once you release it, it can’t fester inside anymore.

I, personally, know at least three officers that have committed suicide. They were strong men. They were good at their job. They were passionate, had families, had dreams and goals. They also had a darkness that they forced themselves to carry with them everywhere, and one day that darkness became too heavy to carry. If you ever feel like you can’t make a difference, that you aren’t making a difference, that no one would even care or notice that you weren’t around, ask for help. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but having a support network is essential. If you want to remain anonymous, you can contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They will answer 24/7. Just remember, you are making a difference. You do matter.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Sam Milam

Sam Milam

Sam Milam has been writing and running her own businesses for several years. She was a police and fire emergency 911 dispatcher for four years. She has received training for handling responses to active shooters, suicides, kidnappings, structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, tactical incidents, natural disaster emergencies and so on. Knowledge is power, and by passing on that knowledge she hopes to provide tools for others to avoid and protect themselves and those around them.
Sam Milam
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