In today’s workforce and career field, especially all working as first responders, behavioral health is a major concern. Typically, the time from October to February is very emotional and strenuous mentally to a lot of the population in the United States. In the current workforce, one can see individuals from the age of 15 up to age 70.
In the past, people retired in their mid 60s to 70s and left the career field and its progression to the younger employees. But, in today’s workforce, employees are working longer than ever before.
With this change, the number of generations working alongside of each other has affected language and terms as well. An old saying is people won’t change until the change has a direct effect on them.
This is also true when it comes to an employee’s personal health both physically and mentally. Just a few short years ago, and even today, when a tragic event occurs there will be comments on one’s mental health or stability. These events probably occur on two fronts, one being the victim and their family and one on the perpetrator if it is a criminal incident. But let’s look at the first responder and what effect does a life-threatening event have on them.
In any casualty event, there can be numerous injuries including loss of life. And if the first responder has never trained for the casualty aspect, what happens to them mentally? They can be exposed to circumstances that will give them Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD), for an unknown amount of time or even for a lifetime. When this occurs what resources are available for the responder? Most departments or agencies probably have trained professionals in this area and are available for all employees to seek some type of help. But as a supervisor of first responders, what do you look for and how do you approach the person effected?
Another thing included in the approach of a person in need is what are the age differences in the supervisor and the employee in need? This is where terminology is meeting the world of change. In older generations of first responders, they were told that this is part of the job and you knew what to expect when you were hired. Not the best approach for the employee. In today’s multi generation workforce, the 65-year-old captain addressing the 21-year-old recently hired firefighter will really need some coaching in use of language to get the firefighter to open up and discuss the incident that has affected them.
In learning new strategies, the new wave for PTSD and other type of challenging emotions is to look at the term “behavioral health.” Behavior is really a part of the mental process. Looking at how we can discuss in open or private situations the behavior that is affecting someone allows us to find a resolution and to provide the necessary resources. Behavioral health does include the physical health along with the mental health of all people.
In the career field of first responders, we need to look at what can and will present issues both mentally and physically to our employees and provide avenues and resources for effectively helping the employee to be able to work and deal with the issue. The behavior change, and resources, are not only important for the organization but also to the families of the employees.
In a recent situation I experienced, our weekly disposal collection operator was displaying some very emotional expressions. When I asked him if everything was alright he stated, “no but I will make it through the shift.” On our next meeting I waved him down and simply asked him if he was doing better and he said that all is good and thanked me for just simply checking on him. What I probably should have should have done is call his supervisor to check on him throughout his shift. Any employee in any organization feels the sense of belonging and is willing to put in the extra effort when they are recognized and even when one is displaying certain behaviors. Take a minute and acknowledge the behavior difference you recognized and step in with concern for their overall health. The pay back and reward is always beneficial to both sides.
Remember that behavioral health is mental health in today’s workforce and the life you get involved with will be the life you probably save.
Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue until 2011, as firefighter, training officer and ultimately professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University and as chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. Rivero also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2004.