Operational Stress Injuries
First Responders & Military Members
Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs)
Operational Stress is a broad term used to describe a range of negative mental health effects experienced by public safety members (i.e., first responders, military) as a result of operational requirements. When these effects become moderate to severe, persist through daily life, and impact functioning they often result in psychological injuries, which are termed operational stress injuries. These include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and panic disorder.
Critical incident response work means that members are often thrown into the fight-flight-freeze response, far beyond what is experienced by the average person. As first responders you never know what you’ll encounter on a call. Repeated exposure to critical incidents/ traumatic events, personal stressors, shift work, and relocation or deployment related separations from family for active duty military members have a cumulative impact and begin to wear down both our bodies and minds. They can begin to erode our healthy coping skills and actually prime the brain for psychological injury.
Some symptoms of operational stress include:
o Low motivation
o Anger & Irritability
o Apathy or feeling numb
o Decreased empathy
o Feeling overwhelmed
o Sense of helplessness/ hopelessness/
o Poor concentration
o Poor memory
o Indecisiveness or poor judgement
o Social withdrawal/ isolation/ disconnection
o Ineffective communication or a lack of communication
o Anger outbursts/ over reactions
o Substance abuse
o Sleep disturbance (too much or too little, nightmares)
o Disordered eating (too much or too little)
o Decreased libido
o Poor self care
o Impulsivity or high risk behaviours
o Increase in nervous behaviours (e.g. skin picking, fidgeting, nail biting, pacing, etc.)
The psychological toll of operational stress when left unchecked can have a profound impact on our relationships with loved ones. Emergency response work has been found to result in more rigid patterns of thinking compared to the average person, because first responders have more exposure to critical incidents involving catastrophic events. What we learn is directly influenced by what we live, and our brains adapt to that, so we become biased towards catastrophic thinking and hypervigilance — paying attention to signs of potential harm/ threats, while filtering out other pieces of information. The thinking patterns and behaviours that are most adaptive to us at work in public safety, may also be those that prove most maladaptive in our personal relationships with family and friends. Our team is here to help you gain greater awareness of your experience, the impact on those relationships dearest to you, and bridge understanding between you and your loved ones.
The Vision Counselling & Consulting Approach
Our therapists are specialized in identifying and treating the operational stress injuries of a wide variety of first responder populations (i.e. firefighters, police, military, paramedics, corrections, dispatch, emergency room physicians and nurses, etc.) and their families. As first responders your mental health needs are unique to your operational duties and experiences. At Vision Counselling & Consulting, you can rest assured that you will receive a high quality of service you can trust with practitioners who are not generalists, but rather specialists.
Following assessment, our initial goal will be to provide you with meaningful and relatable psycho-education on the impact of operational stress on the brain and its functioning. Understanding that your reactions are the brain’s normal response to abnormal circumstances is a powerful realization that will help set you on the path towards recovery. We will help you develop a robust psychological toolkit that will strengthen your natural resiliency and develop a new and healthier relationship with emotions, which will involve unlearning some of the more common unhelpful messages embedded within the stoicism of public safety service culture. We use evidence based treatment modalities, including cognitive behavioural therapy, exposure therapy, accelerated resolution therapy, and mindfulness. We can also incorporate spirituality and faith based support upon request.
Through our sessions, our clients consistently report an increased awareness of their personal triggers and the early warning signs, improved ability to regulate their emotions, improved effective communication and interpersonal skills, improved relationships, significant reduction in avoidance behaviours, and improved coping skills.
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