Mental Health Viewpoint: The Fine Line Between WHAT and WHO.

In the last few years we have witnessed a major turn in the way we view our minds. First responders of the past were though of as hard men that had a calling. This calling brought out the best of men and women that saw the worst the world could offer. Now we know that even these men and women were merely as human as we are, and humans feel things. We are all affected by what we see, but it may affect us in vastly different ways.

Now I pose a question: Is being a first responder WHO, or WHAT you are?

We all start out on our journeys in much the same way. Walking through the door eager to learn. We wait for an opportunity to prove ourselves to our brothers and sisters in the hopes we will soon be accepted. We work our jobs, but go home to our lives. In these moments being a first responder is WHAT we are.

All to soon we get the calls under our belts, or the time in theatre. We feel like this is what life has always been. We lose the ability to see the defining line between our professional and personal lives. At this point, being a first responder is WHO we are.

Neither position is a bad spot to be in on the surface. If being a first responder is a WHAT, we still have the ability to be great at what we do. WHATS can still be true brothers, sisters, mentors, and teachers; all the labels our community needs. WHATS still also carry the risk of being affected by what we see. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD and suicide are still real for the them. Bad calls hurt, but making a first responder WHAT you are allows one a mental area of refuge, a safe place to spend your time and devote yourself to. You may be a paramedic, a fireman, a soldier, or a police officer. You may have still be hurting. You still may need to talk, but after hours you’re a father, a mother, or a friend.

It’s been my opinion, however, that the largest risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse issues lie with those that use being a first responder to define WHO they are. It’s no longer a job that you devote yourself to, but a lifestyle. WHOs are still wonderful family men/women, friends, and have exciting lives outside of the job, but first and foremost they are first responders. They are firemen that are fathers, Cops that are friends, soldiers that are brothers and sisters. The job is our number one priority with everything else being second, or even lower. When things go wrong with the job: bad call, argument, seeing something unexpected, or even retirement… WHOs have nothing to fall back on. It’s not just a bad moment on the job, it’s a major snag to their identities. This makes every untoward event extra difficult for someone defining the job as their primary identity.

Brothers and sisters, go back to the question posed in the beginning. I’m sure you have already realized which side you are on, but let’s take it a step further.

I’ve told you many times that I’m always ready to walk with you while we figure things out, while we make it safe, and while we heal. Now is say to all of you: I want you to walk with me while we figure out How to take the best parts of each side and make them work in unison? We will never end the hurt a human feels seeing what we are bound to see, but how do we give ourselves the tools to survive.

Will you walk with me?

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