First responders reveal they are shouldering tremendous stress, especially due to the unique demands of the past year, and say they could use more positive support, according to a new, in-depth nationwide survey now underway.

The National Wellness Survey for Public Safety Personnel, which originated in Virginia and was first reported here by Changing America, received feedback from 5,000 first responders from 26 public safety agencies across the state, some of whom courageously spoke about struggles with PTSD and contemplation of suicide due to the trauma-filled demands of their jobs. Now public safety agencies from all across the U.S. are also participating in the survey, which includes responses from all branches of public safety.
 
So far, more than 1,400 first responders spanning America have turned in responses about their psychological health while coping with the particularly challenging times during the pandemic.
 
“Especially in a year where they have also had to expose themselves to a deadly virus in order to protect us….We hope that agency and government leaders will use the results to create more support — to match the unique demands of this work with equally unique assistance,” says Colby Mills, a police psychologist who works with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia.
 
“One surprising finding so far is about what’s most stressful for first responders right now. When we asked them to list the most stressful things they face, they indicated that the stress from public and media opinions of them was nearly as severe as stress related to the coronavirus. And each of those was rated as more stressful than threats to safety and career,” says Mills.
 
Many hope the results from the survey will lead to positive changes to better support first responders.
 
The project is a joint venture among the Fairfax County Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service and Nova Southeastern University, made up of a team of first responders, psychologists and researchers on a shared mission to show the nation what first responders face every day and how it can affect them, says Mills.
 
Mills gives a breakdown of the benefits anticipated from the National Wellness Survey for Public Safety Personnel:
 
  • Nationwide: ”We will use the nationwide results to educate the public, the media, and public leaders—we believe that this will improve perceptions of first responders.”
  •  Agency level: “Agencies are also able to use their results to advocate for more supportive resources. The results from the Virginia survey allowed one agency to get funding to hire a psychologist, for example. Other agencies used the results to make internal policy changes. The overall results helped pass a law in Virginia (65.2-107) last year making it easier for first responders to receive treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
  • Individual: “We also think that taking the survey is an opportunity for the first responder to reflect on what he or she has been through. They have had to absorb a lot in a short amount of time, leaving little time to reflect or 'unpack' the changes and the hardships.  The survey allows them to think back and, if necessary, reach out for help.”
 
All responses in the survey are anonymous so that first responders have the protection to speak up without fear of being singled out or stigmatized, according to Mills.
Published on Mar 17, 2021