Sept. 11—University of Phoenix today announced survey findings regarding first responders’ perceptions about mental health. First responders not only deal with everyday stress, but they are on the front line of situations that are often times extraordinary and traumatic. These experiences, compounded by long hours and the need to make quick decisions, can take a toll on their mental health and well-being. Considering the nature of their job, it is not surprising that most first responders believe mental health and wellness is important. However, the stigma associated with mental health counseling might be preventing first responders from actually acquiring the help they need.
According to a recent University of Phoenix online survey, nearly all first responders (93 percent) agree that mental health is as important as physical health and more than eight in 10 (83 percent) believe that people who receive counseling generally get better. However, 47 percent feel that there would be repercussions on the job for seeking professional counseling. Among those who feel this way, the repercussions of seeking counseling cited most often included receiving different treatment from coworkers (53 percent) or supervisors (52 percent) and being perceived as weak by colleagues/peers (46 percent).
While a stigma remains, the good news is that most first responders are open to getting the help they need. The survey revealed that 67 percent have either sought or considered professional counseling. Still, old stereotypes can cause first responders to be leery about professional help. Those who have not sought out counseling cite the following reasons:
Not feeling comfortable speaking to another person about their problems – 20 percent
Not wanting people to perceive them as being weak – 19 percent
Feeling judged by colleagues in their profession – 19 percent
Feeling like it would affect their career/chance for a promotion – 17 percent
“As a community, there are steps we can take to erase the stigmas associated with receiving professional counseling,” said Sam Dutton, Ph.D., LCSW, program director for University of Phoenix College of Humanities and Sciences. “There is no shame in seeking treatment for the flu or visiting the dentist. The same should be true of taking care of our mental well-being. Organizations and individuals that support first responders need to change the conversation about mental health, share their experiences and encourage others to seek help if they need it.”
The survey found that first responders can be more open to getting help if those around them are willing to discuss mental health. If a team leader spoke about their own experience, 82 percent say they would be encouraged to seek professional counseling. Peers have an even greater influence, with 89 percent of first responders saying if a close colleague, friend or family member spoke up, they would be encouraged to seek help for themselves.
“Historically, first responders have worked in a culture where you are expected to keep quiet and handle it,” Dr. Dutton said. “That approach does not work and if mental health issues are not addressed, they can affect job performance, family life and even physical health. Often it just takes one trusted person speaking up to change perceptions. On the job and in the mental health field, we need to provide a safe space where first responders can discuss mental health confidentially and without judgment or repercussions.”
University of Phoenix has an alliance with Give an Hour, a national non-profit that provides free, confidential mental health care and support to service members, veterans, and their families as well as other at-risk populations. Give an Hour harnesses the generosity of more than 7,000 mental health professionals who volunteer their time and expertise. University of Phoenix also operates six counseling centers in five states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., Nev., and Utah) that offer free services to anyone in the community, including first responders.