Family First Responder Study

Re: Building Families

A New Program for Spouses/Partners of First Responders

The Family First Responder (FFR) research study is very excited to invite family members of our police, fire, and paramedic services in BC, AB, SK, and ON to join the feasibility study of our first program! Building on the research we have done in the past two years with police, fire, and paramedic members and their spouses/partners, we are calling our first FFR program Re: Building Families. This title is a direct salute to the strength, identity, and character of first responders and their families, but also a recognition that some parts of the family are vulnerable to the operational stressors and traumas that enter the home through the vital work of first responders. Our program will address the impact of operational stressors on relationships, identity, and values that are critical to building a strong and healthy family.

We are pleased to offer two ways that spouses/partners of police, fire, and paramedic members can participate in the Re: Building Families program:

  1. Virtual Group Participation: Starting the week of January 30, 2023, spouses/partners can join a 6-week virtual program (90 mins/week) with up to 10 other spouses/partners. Licensed psychologists will lead participants in learning about and discussing the strengths and risks of living in a first responder family. Times and days for the groups will be announced in early January.
  2. Self-Directed Participation: Starting in February 2023, spouses/partners of first responders can participate in a 6-week self-directed study of the learning material as presented in the above virtual groups, but without the weekly peer interaction and guided learning experience.

All participants will be asked to complete pre, post, and 3-month follow-up questionnaires, and in doing so will receive gift cards. We are also excited to offer – for both spouses/partners and their police, fire, or paramedic member – the opportunity to provide biophysiological data during the study via Garmin wearables. This will allow us to gather data on sleep, activity, heart rate, and stress variables via an app that is synced to the Garmin.

So . . . if you are a spouse/partner of a police, fire, or paramedic member living in BC, AB, SK, or ON and would like to receive a screening form to determine your eligibility to participate in one of our programs, please send us your name and e-mail address below. We would love for you to participate in the Re: Building Families program, and we hope that the results of our study will help to build stronger families and stronger first responders for years to come! More information for registration.

Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety is the predominant concern presented by children and adolescents today. In my practice, I meet with children as young as 5 who are beginning to profile with frequent worries that impact their daily functioning. I also meet with adults who have gone undiagnosed and are ready to seek help as the level of overwhelm they experience on a daily level is impacting their employment, physical health, and relationships. Early intervention is key and when we are working with children it is so important to take the temperature of the family by assessing the overall level of stress and worry within the household. Next steps, are exploring individual patterns and coping strategies through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This process can also involve a gradual exposure to experiences that the child has previously avoided or been protected from experiencing. The end goal is for the child to have greater confidence in their resilience to be able to navigate worry and stress when it presents itself through reframing, positive self-talk, and using emotional/physical regulation techniques.

For young people, anxiety is the most common childhood psychiatric condition. These disorders start early, by age four, and by adolescence, one in 12 youths are severely impaired in their ability to function at home, in school and with peers. These kids are so frightened, worried, literally physically uncomfortable due to their anxiety. It’s difficult for them to pay attention in school, relax and have fun, make friends and do all the things that kids should be doing. Anxiety can create misery for the child, and the parents are front and center in witnessing their child’s distress.” (Alabano, 2020) Here is a book recommendation: “You and your Anxious Child: Free your Child from Fears and Worries and Create a Joyful Family Life.” (Anne Marie Albano and Leslie Pepper)

Grief and loss – there is no formula

When we lose someone we love, the pathway to healing is unique to the individual. Timelines, impact on daily functioning, and stages of grief can be unpredictable. These are some recommendations that have been shared by those who have experienced loss or are involved in the grief support process: (A. Greene, 2018).

  1. Accept some loneliness. When you begin to feel isolated, reach out to counselling supports and groups who are comfortable with grief and can help you move through the process.
  2. Choose good company. Connect with family, friends, and community primarily with those who can let you be “alone but not alone.”
  3. Be gentle with yourself. It will get easier over time but radical self-care and self-compassion are key.
  4. Get extra rest. Physical and emotional exhaustion are real.
  5. Set a regular sleep schedule.
  6. Get moving, walking, exercising preferably outdoors each day.
  7. Try and maintain a structured scheduled within your day with short term goals. A walk, a tea break with a friend, a time for a phone call, whatever feels right.
  8. Embrace all our emotions. They may come in waves or very abruptly in unexpected ways. Allow the emotions to come and seek help when you feel overwhelmed and feel that other supports are needed.

The Journey of an Illness

Every single one of us will have our life interrupted, whether it’s by the rip cord of a diagnosis or some other kind of heartbreak or trauma that brings us to the floor. We need to find ways to live in the in-between place, managing whatever body and mind we currently have. Sometimes, all it takes is the ingenuity of a handmade game of Scrabble or finding that stripped-down kind of meaning in the love of family and a night on the ballroom dance floor, or that radical, dangerous hope that I’m guessing will someday lead a teenage girl terrified of bugs to go camping. If you’re able to do that, then you’ve taken the real hero’s journey.You’ve achieved what it means to actually be well, which is to say: alive, in the messiest, richest, most whole sense.” (Suleika Jaouad)

If you are currently dealing with illness or supporting a loved one who is, you are well aware of the uneasy walk between hope and navigating fear of the unknown. Scott et al.(2017), in their research “Healing journey: a qualitative analysis of Americans suffering from trauma and illness,” explored pathways to healing by conducting in-depth interviews with 23 patients who experienced healing. They concluded that moving from being wounded, moving from suffering to healing, is very much facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing of moving through weight of responsibility to ability to respond. The power of relationship and connection, being open to support and relationship, cannot be emphasized enough. If you are navigating this journey, I encourage you to reach out to counselling supports to guide you in this process as well as your family and community. A recommended book that is an exploration of one young woman’s journey is “Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted,” by Suleika Jaouad.

Men and their mental health

Through concerted media campaigns, publicly shared personal stories including those of celebrity athletes, and the formation of such organizations as “First Responder Health,” the conversation has become more open in our society around men addressing mental health disorders. Our culture has historically labelled help seeking behaviour as a weakness, in particular for men. In the study “What gets in the way? Men’s perspective of barriers to mental health services” (Seidler, Rice, Kealy 2019), the most frequently endorsed barriers were: believing that a lot of people feel sad and down, not knowing what to look for in a therapist, and needing to solve one’s own problems. The conclusion of the study suggested that service delivery must adapt to better respond to masculine ideals while also improving men’s ease of access both financially and transparency of process. As we all strive to be more culturally responsive, let’s consider what steps we might take to remove barriers for all of our clients regardless of gender through education, training, and being curious about specific needs.