The Psychological Effects of Wrongful Death on First Responders and Emergency Personnel

Individuals lose their lives due to natural or expected causes regularly. First responders and emergency personnel are used to handling the loss of life on a regular basis. However, when individuals lose their lives due to the careless or negligent actions of others, prompting a wrongful death case, the stakes are different. These are deaths that likely would not have occurred had it not been for the actions of others, and these types of incidents can have significant effects on those who initially respond to the scene.

Tragedies – Day in and Day Out

Unfortunately, first responders see it all. First responders may have exciting jobs, but they also have jobs that require them to see the horrors of society. They see the effects of horrific negligent or intentional actions regularly. This includes the aftermath of drunk driving incidents, murderous violence, accidental falls, and suicides. What many of us may only experience once in our lifetimes, first responders often experience before lunch.

Suicide Amongst First Responders

A recent post from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that there were more than 47,000 suicides across the country in 2019, and one potential risk factor studied in these cases was occupation, including first responders. The study classifieds first responders as law enforcement officials, firefighters, EMS clinicians, and public safety telecommunications workers. The CDC states that first responders may be at an elevated risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts due to the environment in which they work, including stress.

A report from the US Surgeon General indicates that occupational stress in first responders is associated with an increased risk of mental health concerns. This includes feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The report also points out that first responders face an increased risk of suicidal behaviors, including suicidal ideations or suicide attempts.

Multiple reports place the psychological effects of “death” and seeing death on a regular basis as part of the stressors involved with the job.

The HERO Act

In 2020, Congress approved funding for the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act. This law directed the CDC to establish a Public Safety Officer Suicide Reporting System to help better understand first responder mental health and suicide ideation, as well as the circumstances that lead up to these types of behaviors.

A major challenge to helping first responders after wrongful deaths and other types of horrific incidents is the availability of mental health personnel. There is a shortage of mental health professionals throughout the country, so ensuring that first responders have adequate and prompt access to this type of care is difficult.

One successful approach that has been used in various areas throughout the country is formal or informal event debriefings, often referred to as decompression sessions. These types of sessions could be incredibly helpful after first responders respond to a wrongful death scenario.

If you or somebody you care about is a first responder and is having any type of suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. If you call or text 988, You will be connected with a trained crisis counselor who can help you through this.