Y'all, this book is it! Not only is it short and sweet (more of a booklet than a book), but it hits every major point for those of us in the first responder life.
Whether you are law enforcement, firefighter, paramedic/EMS, military, dispatch, or any other part of the responder culture, this author will change your life. I can guarantee it.
Full disclosure, this book is directed specifically towards law enforcement (hence the title). Dr. Gilmartin references the police culture specifically because of his education in police psychology and his experience working in law enforcement at the Pima County Sheriff's Office in Arizona. However, almost the entire book can be applicable to any other role in the first responder culture.
In the beginning, Dr. Gilmartin addresses the lack of support and training for first responders in how to manage the effects of the job on their personal life. As a therapist, in grad school I had an entire class on self-care and addressing issues of burnout. Dr. Gilmartin calls out departments and the responder culture in their failure of caring for the officers.
This book also addresses the basic effects of a highly stressful job on a person's wellbeing. Dr. Gilmartin focuses on one of the most significant aspects of the first responder mindset that can be considered the core of all the negative effects of the job: hypervigilance.
The same is true for firefighters, EMTs, dispatchers, and other emergency response personnel. Firefighters need to read all of the potential negative outcomes not just when running into a burning building, but also when going to a trapped elevator or a chemical spill. If an paramedic doesn't consider death as an outcome when responding to a car accident, they can miss the signs of concussion or internal bleeding in a patient. All first responders need to work at this heightened level of awareness in order to be good at their job.
Dr. Gilmartin expertly describes the biological effects of being hypervigilant, and the repercussions of such a biological imbalance. So many responders talk about these effects without even realizing it. "The job gets your blood going!" or "It's just part of the job". An important take-away in this book is the need for officers to regain biological balance on a physical level, not just a mental level, in order to be able to function outside of the shift. Without this balance, responders will often become angry or detached when around the people they love.
And overtime, this imbalance can turn into vicarious trauma.
So, how do we manage this biological complication? How can first responders overcome the barriers keeping them from living their best life when they take off the uniform?
First, we need department management to change, and Dr. Gilmartin calls it like he sees it. Responders need chiefs, directors, managers who encourage and promote the mental well-being of their responders. LEOs have recently seen a big push in this direction, with the increase in on-duty deaths and suicides, as well as the increased media attention on the actions of officers. But what about our dispatchers, who are on the phone managing a life-threatening call as a calm presence, multi-tasking to get officers and paramedics to the scene as fast as possible, AND trying to not let the terrified voice get to them after work? What about our firefighters, who go for weeks during fire season without seeing their family, and losing several brothers and sisters to the forest fires on the other side of the state?
We have this big push for mental health and services to those in need in our society. How is it that the people who are putting themselves into the most physically and mentally straining careers in our society are being missed? We need more education in the mental health field to become better providers for those who serve, for our responders.
What about you at home? What can you do as a responder to better manage the biological turmoil your body and mind are going through because of the job? As the partner or loved one of a responder, how can you support and encourage your responder to engage in healthy self-care techniques?
One thing you can do is buy Dr. Gilmartin's book.
Another thing you can do is go to therapy or find a counselor who is culturally competent as a clinician. And I don't mean someone who read Dr. Gilmartin's book. Find someone who will get you, get your lifestyle, and not judge you for being part of a not-so-common culture in our society.
You have got to read this book! Read it, and watch your life change. Simply being informed and aware of the situations you are going through can create profound change in how you approach your behaviors and emotions. But I challenge you to take it one step further, and actually implement the suggestions from Dr. Gilmartin, do the work, to make your life as a responder fulfilling again.
Take care, friends!
You can purchase the book on Amazon through my affiliate link below.
Disclosure: I do receive a small payment when you are purchasing the book through the link above.