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Supporting First Responders During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for many people throughout the US. Health officials have identified over 4 million cases and almost 145,000 deaths related to the virus and the numbers continue to increase daily. People on the front lines of healthcare who respond to these cases are often overwhelmed and in need of help themselves. Supporting first responders during COVID-19 takes many forms, including emotional and mental support.

Challenges for First Responders During COVID-19

While everyone is being told to stay home and maintain an appropriate physical distance from others, first responders are on the front lines of COVID-19. They are there to help people whenever they need it, even when the virus is rampant. These first responders may not have the protective equipment they need but still they do what they are trained to do, to help others.

Burnout and Stress

The US Fire Administration (USFA) emphasizes that first responders may experience burnout and traumatic stress during prolonged exposure to emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects have definitely been prolonged and intense. Burnout can involve feelings of extreme exhaustion and of being overwhelmed. When a first responder experiences such burnout, they may also turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the overwhelming sadness or depression.

When first responders provide care to others during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can lead to stress and other very strong emotions. It is critical that first responders recognize stress within themselves so they can take steps to cope in a healthier manner. Symptoms of stress can include:

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Feeling helpless or powerless
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Recognizing Stress-Related Disorders

First responders are trained to take care of others, but they may not always recognize the need to take care of themselves. Supporting first responders during COVID-19 involves helping them understand the stress-related disorders they may face as a result of their intense work. The CDC emphasizes that some people may experience clinically significant distress or impairment, such as acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or secondary traumatic stress. Compassion fatigue and burnout may also result from chronic workplace stress and exposure to traumatic events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trauma and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects first responders as they witness traumatic events on a daily basis, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) states that PTSD is a disorder that develops in people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Responding to those who are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus can certainly be concerning and hazardous.

PTSD symptoms are categorized into re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. These symptoms can include flashbacks, bad dreams, angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping, negative feelings, and avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.

Self-Care and Coping

USFA recommends that first responders use coping techniques, such as taking breaks when possible, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system to help prevent and reduce their burnout and stress symptoms. Other tips for self-care and coping during COVID-19 include:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
  • Taking care of physical health. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy and well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Making time to unwind. Try to do some other enjoyable activities when not working.
  • Connecting with others, including talking with people (while maintaining social distances) who are trusted, about feelings and concerns.

Most importantly, turning to drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms will only make the stress and anxiety worse. Supporting first responders during COVID-19, treatment options are designed to address their specific needs during these challenging times.

Treatment for First Responders

The stress, burnout, PTSD, and other challenges first responders face are unique to them. Emergency medical personnel, firefighters, healthcare workers, and search and rescue teams have stressful jobs that can expose them to dangerous situations. Treatment for this special group has to address their trauma, anxiety, and addiction in a way that is truly meaningful and impactful for them.

BRC Recovery’s First Responders Rehab Program is designed specifically for supporting first responders during COVID-19. The evidence-based, quality therapeutic approaches that are integral to the first responders program are designed to heal mind, body, and spirit holistically.


At BRC Recovery, we appreciate the work of first responders who are ready to respond to help those who need them. When you, as the first responder, need help yourself, we are here for you. We provide the treatment you need for your PTSD, addiction, and mental and emotional health. Our team of experts focuses on holistic healing so you can experience real recovery. We are taking every precaution to ensure you get the help you need as we focus on supporting first responders during COVID-19.