Emergency communications center staff are constantly exposed to stressful situations that could take a mental toll on anyone. Due to this, leadership should not only be on alert for signs of mental distress from employees, including depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, but also take proactive steps to promote employee well-being. While working in public safety will always be stressful, it’s vital to ensure support is provided first to first responders — who give of themselves every day — by proactively safeguarding their mental health.
Seeking a solution for a very real problem
Agencies around the world are working hard to address the mental health crisis impacting public safety professionals. For example, a police department in New York has begun trying to identify staff who may be at risk of mental health distress by analyzing a set series of factors. They also encourage employees to use provided counseling services, retain mental health experts, and are trying to eliminate the barriers to getting help.
Steps leaders can take to reduce stress for all staff
The above example is a robust program that takes time and resources to implement, but there are many actions leaders can take now to help promote employee well-being. These include:
- examining workloads
- implementing stress-reduction programs
- building trust
- managing shifts to give staff a break from high-volume times
- acquiring information from anonymous surveys
- leading by example through participating in and encouraging well-being activities
- encouraging employees to look out for each other and those who may be struggling
Each of these are relatively quick actions managers can take to start making an impact on the mental health of their staff.
How technology could help
Technology advances are proving beneficial to the effort, as well. Wearable tech, such as shirts, jackets, helmets, and smartwatches can help discover previously undetectable warning signs that can occur during the middle of a crisis. Biometric readings, such as heart or respiration rates, can alert supervisors that an individual needs to be pulled from a situation if staffing permits or given a much-needed break following the traumatic incident.
Additionally, computer-aided dispatch systems that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can offer assistive insights to call-takers and dispatchers. By working in the background, these new assistive AI tools can quickly and effectively scan for similarities, anomalies, links, and patterns across the entirety of calls coming into the comms center. These capabilities act as a second set of eyes, reducing stress on both comms center veterans and new employees still building their knowledge base.
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There’s no question that public safety professionals are at great risk for stress, anxiety, depression, and various types of fatigue. Safeguarding these individuals against potential threats to their health is not only important, it can be lifesaving. It’s absolutely vital to give time, attention, and resources toward reducing the causes and stigma and increasing the assistance. Though technological capabilities clearly contribute to the ongoing effort to protect the well-being of those who work to protect us, there’s still much work to be done.
Listen to our podcast with renowned public safety researcher Dr. Michelle Lilly, Associate Professor of Psychology at Northern Illinois University, to hear her explain the impact on emergency communications center workers and offer some guidance for the future. Listen Now.
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