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Behavioral Health Training | Research

Abstract

Numerous studies have found notable rates of comorbidity between work-related stress and several mental health concerns among emergency service workers, such as fire rescue personnel and law enforcement professionals. Indeed, it has been reported that law enforcement officers have higher rates of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems than civilian comparison groups. Firefighters share compelling rates of mental health concerns; since 2011, 293 firefighters have died by suicide across the country, with 15% of them killing their spouses. The Broward County, Florida Sheriff’s Office (BSO) has taken a preventive measure to address behavioral health challenges faced by their agency’s first responders. This has involved the adoption of organizational practices that have a positive impact on the mental health of their workers. As part of this preventive initiative, BSO and the Psychology Department of a local university collaborated to develop and implement Behavioral Health Training. This program consists of psychoeducation concerning a number of topics relevant to the mental and physical health of first responders, including: substance abuse, depression, stress, sleep problems, and suicide. The training was designed to: (1) explain the dynamics of mental health-related obstacles, and (2) to provide participants with internal and community resources to facilitate access to services. Separate trainings were held for the fire rescue and law enforcement personnel employed by BSO. Training for fire rescue was conducted during the annual International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week; the law enforcement series was held during a meeting of the Florida Association of Hostage Negotiators. A program evaluation demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive response from over 250 first responders and agency administrators who attended the trainings. The heuristic value of Behavioral Health Training for first responders is discussed; suggestions for directions that future research in this area might take are offered.

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