Why do emergency services workers and volunteers need to be aware of prolonged grief?

A man holding a woman's hand

If you’ve ever had a loved one pass away, you’ll know that depth of sadness. Nothing can prepare you for it.

And while it’s something that you’ll never completely get over, it does get easier with time, as that yearning and longing interrupts your life, less and less. 

Chronic grieving. It’s not the same.

People with prolonged grief are basically stuck in a state of chronic loss.

They may still feel shocked or dazed by their loss, have difficulty accepting it and find themselves constantly thinking about the meaning of their loss.

Some people may find themselves drawn to reminders, that interfere with other aspects of their life.

Others may find themselves avoiding memories or activities that remind them of their loss.

The thing is, anyone can experience this. A sudden death, a traumatic moment or something that shocks you, can lead to complicated, chronic grief.

This can result in mental health conditions that are different from depression or anxiety.

The aftermath of traumatic events doesn’t stop.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the emergency service professions.
 
The daily experiences with life-threatening and highly stressful events affect them physically, mentally, and emotionally.

This can put them at risk of substance abuse, heart attacks, and increasing divorce rates.
 
The high levels of stress that these workers routinely encounter can draw some into chemical dependency, physical illness, emotional problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and poor inter-family relationships.

The lack of public support and understanding only adds to anxiety levels.
 
For emergency service workers, there’s never an opportunity to completely move on from those experiences.

The constant exposure to death or situations that remind them of that person or moment, makes it difficult to process emotions.

While they probably don’t know the victim personally, they’re the ones who spend their last minutes with them – in moments of intense fear, shock, and pain.
 
One resource spoke about job-related stress:

“Stress is one of the most serious occupational hazards in the fire service, affecting health, job performance, career decision-making, morale, and family life. Emotional problems, as well as issues with alcohol and drugs, are becoming increasingly evident. High rates of attrition through divorce, occupational disease, and injury continue… [and] suicide is a real and tragic alternative for some.”

Practising coping skills and being aware of unhealthy side effects of trauma is critical.

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