The Effects Of Putting Others First 

Updated on December 18, 2023

Who are First Responders?

First responders are emergency response personnel, typically the first on the scene in the event of a crisis. They fill a variety of roles, from police officers, to firefighters, and paramedics— and are vital parts of a crisis response infrastructure. They are key in saving lives, and often will encounter incredibly dangerous situations in doing so. 

The Perils of EMS Work

For first responders, the danger doesn’t end at the front door. The reality of being the first person on the scene creates a significant chance of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is at least 10% higher in first responders than civilians. PTSD is a long-term mental illness that develops as a response to a life-threatening or traumatic incident, and can greatly alter the quality of life for those living with the condition. It can manifest as intrusive and incredibly disturbing thoughts, changes in cognitive function and mood, and hyper-reactivity, alongside a bevy of other symptoms. 

A 2004 study found that 56.4% of people with PTSD had reported being suicidal in some form, as opposed to 4% of the general young adult population. The stress that first responders experience can lead to suicide ideation with 37% having reported experiencing it, ten times the national average. In Arizona, firefighters, EMT’s and paramedics have a 39% higher risk of suicide than the general population.

First responders disproportionately experience challenging and traumatizing scenarios on the job. Unfortunately, this is coupled with a pervasive stigma that says it is not okay to reach out for help, making it hard for those affected to seek the help they need.

Stop Our Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental health resources and talking about trauma is a huge detriment to the first responder community. Because of this, many first responders feel unable to discuss the negative emotions and internal struggles they face while on the job. Resources can also be scarce and hard to access, and those struggling are left feeling even more isolated. To help fight the stigma against the silent battles that first responders face, organizations like, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the percentage of suicides in first responders, are providing resources, education and training to leaders within the industry. 

A recent survey found that, of 40,000 firefighters with suspected PTSD, only 10% had sought psychological help. First responders are at an elevated risk for substance abuse, mental health issues and suicidal ideation brought on by the trauma of the job and are left with a lack of access to mental health care. It is important that we work to break down the stigma around mental health and facilitate conversations about trauma and mental preparedness within the field.

Next Steps

If you are a first responder and are looking for ways to stop the stigma you can sign the pledge for’s campaign Stop Our Stigma. Stop Our Stigma is a campaign to recognize and commit to reducing the stigma associated with mental health and seeking help. By signing the pledge, will provide support and guidance to all EMS Caregivers who commit to stopping the stigma. They will also assist industry leaders with developing and implementing mental health programs and provide long-term support where needed giving them access to resources, data, and the outline of the resiliency program that has empirically reduced the stigma and positively impacted many who have utilized the program. 

Dale Crogan

Dale Crogan is a 21-year veteran of the Mesa Fire and Medical Department. In his current post as a Peer Support Captain for Mesa Fire and Medical Department, he works to develop effective peer support and resiliency programs.