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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

PTSD Awareness Month

June is PTSD National Awareness month, making this an important time to talk with your first responder teams about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In their duties, first responders often witness human suffering that can result in emotional trauma — putting them at greater risk for developing PTSD.

This condition affects not only the mental and physical health of the individual, but it can also take its toll on the performance and morale of an entire public safety department. By providing opportunities for people to talk openly about PTSD, a culture of psychological safety is encouraged. This can help to reduce the stigma of mental illness and may provide both the support and courage people need to seek help.

PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the good news is that it can be successfully treated. Those who think they may have PTSD should be encouraged to seek diagnosis from a licensed psychologist or a psychiatrist. Once again, PTSD is treatable and does not have to define a life or end a career.

What is PTSD?
PTSD is a disorder in which a person has difficulty emotionally recovering after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event(s). Outside of the traumatic event itself, PTSD is grouped into four clusters of symptoms: intrusion/re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, negative changes in mood and/or thought, and changes in reactivity.

Development of Symptoms

  • Although medical professionals previously categorized PTSD as originating from one traumatic event, it is now recognized that continuous exposure to stressful situations — or cumulative stress — can also cause symptoms of PTSD. Examples of cumulative stress include:
    • Repeated exposure to disaster, accidents, deaths, or violent acts
    • Frequent need to deliver traumatic news to others
    • Regular exposure to the abuse of children

What the League is Doing
Here at the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT), we know this is a very challenging time for public safety departments. Departments are facing much tighter job markets, and this makes it even more important to treat and retain high-functioning individuals.

As a way to support our members, we address PTSD and other mental health issues through web resources, online training (PATROL), Safety and Loss Control Workshops, and recently we’ve hired Public Safety Program Coordinator Lora Setter to develop, implement, and coordinate our strategies in the area of PTSD and overall public safety mental health. Lora can be reached at lsetter@lmc.org or (612) 248-9551.

One web resource currently under construction is a Public Safety Mental Health Toolbox that will be hosted on the League’s website. The toolbox will have information regarding suicide prevention, therapeutic responses to mental illness, wellness programs, and other important mental health information. More information to come about that.

Working together, we can support our valued first responders by openly talking about PTSD and providing resources that promote public safety health and wellbeing.

Upcoming Podcast with Retired Captain Dan Willis
We’re also pleased to provide a podcast featuring national speaker and author Dan Willis. Dan wrote the book, Bulletproof Spirit: The First Responder's Essential Resource for Protecting and Healing Heart and Mind. Dan’s podcast is scheduled to air later this summer, likely in August.

Up next: More COVID-19

Stay safe, and stay healthy,
Rob

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Keep CALM(S) and Carry On

Dealing with a public health crisis can bring up a variety of emotions for you and your family. These are unprecedented times of vulnerability. The COVID-19 pandemic is understandably stressful and can lead to an array of psychological and physiological symptoms — including fear about you or your loved one’s health and safety, sadness, anger, or anxiety. You may also feel boredom and fatigue, or guilt about not being able to perform some job duties during this time.

This can all contribute to psychological disruption, which can in turn affect components of our wellbeing. It’s important to identify those components and find ways to counteract this disruption. Let’s take a look at some ideas to help us manage during these difficult times, using the acronym CALMS:

C - Control and Routine

  • Losing your sense of control can lead to frustration and a feeling of helplessness.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Make yourself a routine on both workdays and days off — and stick to it. Routines promote time management and can help lower anxiety and worry. Make a realistic and attainable to-do list for each day. Be sure to schedule in breaks for relaxing and enjoyable activity. 
  • Try to keep the same sleep and wake schedule that you have always had. 
  • Don’t let yourself get to the point that you are not sure what day of the week it is. 

A – Activity

  • Stay physically active — it will help increase resiliency.
  • Exercise at your own pace. Find a routine that matches your needs, abilities, and physical condition. This can include individualized activity outside or in your home, or utilizing online options, where you can find instructor-led formats and be directed through an exercise activity/class. 
  • Spend time doing an activity that you love.

L – Laughter – Maintaining a Sense of Humor and Connection

  • As public safety personnel, finding ways to talk to others — even a casual connection — can help you feel involved and vital.
  • Outside of work, social distancing makes connections different. It is important to maintain contact with your social circle and find unique ways to connect with others right now. Utilize Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Zoom, the phone, etc., to reach out. 
  • Look for ways to do fun activities with family and friends, like virtual gatherings, virtual game nights and dinners, photo scavenger hunts, etc. 
  • Try to stay involved in your community by supporting local businesses, donating supplies, or responding to a need. 

M – Mental Wellness

  • Allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge uncomfortable or unusual feelings. 
  • Identify your support system, and pay attention to changes in yourself and in them. Encourage one another to share thoughts and feelings. Supporting and assisting others in their time of need can benefit both the person receiving support as well as you.
  • Try online mental health apps such as Calm, Moodpath, Youper, etc. 
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much news. Minimize watching, reading, or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you anxiety or stress. Get updates once or twice at specific times during the day. Seek information only from trusted sources and mainly so that you can take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones (information from the WHO, CDC, and local health authority websites will help you distinguish facts from rumors). Facts can help to minimize fears.
  • You are the person most likely to know how you can de-stress, and you should not hesitate to keep yourself psychologically well. This is not a sprint — it’s a marathon.

S – Sense of Identity

  • Understand that your role during this pandemic may be different than before. This can cause stress, which is a completely normal response. 
  • There is nothing to be gained by fighting your circumstance. You must try to make the best out of an unpleasant situation. 
  • See yourself as a survivor — not a victim — of these circumstances. Refrain from judging yourself. Utilize all of your coping resources. 

During this time, what’s most important is to take good care of yourself.

And remember — we're all in this together! As we've been saying at the League, #WeGotThis.

Up next: More COVID-19 Resources

Stay safe, and stay healthy,
Rob

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Occupant Load Determination for Retail and Business - and A Thank You

As many cities prepare to start the process of reopening, public safety officials — particularly fire chiefs and fire marshals — are being asked to determine the occupancy load for retail buildings.

The Stay Safe Minnesota directive from May 20 allows for some opening of retail businesses with capacity restrictions and if additional criteria is met, as outlined in Minnesota’s Stay Safe Plan.
 
The Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division is providing helpful guidance. The Occupant Load Determination Information Sheet provides a straightforward process on how this is determined. The second page of the document has an example with a diagram of retail space (including a storage room) and the corresponding calculations.

Additional League of Minnesota Cities resources on COVID-19 can be found here.


You Are Appreciated


Signs of support for the first responder community are continuing to appear on front lawns, billboards, and at EMS, fire, and police stations. Your communities appreciate your work and take comfort in knowing you will respond if they need help. Some of the appreciation is in the form of food, or a thumbs up from a jogger as a police car passes by. Here are a couple of signs I came upon recently.

Up next: More COVID-19 Updates

Stay safe and stay healthy,
Rob