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First Responders and Disaster Responders Resource Portal

Learn more about signs of stress and stress management including additional resources and online trainings.

First responders face an increased risk of experiencing behavioral health issues including mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Fear of being seen as weak or not up to the job of a first responder keeps many from seeking help. Responders can build their resilience by increasing awareness about risk factors and warning signs, talking with each other, and using healthy coping strategies.

Stress Management for Responders

Responders are exposed to demanding and tense situations on a regular basis, with some of the most intense situations during and after disasters. Every disaster is different. Are many people affected? Is there a massive amount of destruction? Have many people died? Is the working environment stable? Are there enough resources to properly assist and care for the survivors? Are you or your family personally affected? All these questions and more play a role in the stress levels of responders.

Below are possible signs of stress, as well as tips that may be helpful to manage stress before, during, and after a disaster.

Signs of Stress

  • Bodily sensations and physical effects such as rapid heart rate, headaches, nausea, inability to relax when off duty, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Strong negative feelings
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Problematic or risky behaviors
  • Social conflicts

Stress Management Tips

  • Know your role during a disaster.
  • Develop a self-care plan prior to deployment, and use it during deployment.
  • Practice stress management during all phases of the disaster response effort.
  • Involve loved ones in your preparation and planning activities.
  • Make sure you have an individual and family preparedness plan to cover loved ones if the disaster is in your community.

For more information on how to manage the stress of deployment to a disaster, please see SAMHSA DTAC’s Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress.

Online Trainings

Creating Safe Scenes
This 1.5-hour online course helps first responders use safe, positive approaches to assist individuals in crises related to mental illnesses or substance use disorders. Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Pre-hospital Continuing Education (CAPCE) for continuing education credit, the course presents information about mental health, mental illness, and substance use disorders so that responders can better assess risks and apply the safest strategies for taking care of themselves and the individuals they are called to serve.

Shield of Resilience
This 1-hour online course provides law enforcement officers with a foundational skill set to better understand and address the behavioral health stressors that are unique to law enforcement. It helps law enforcement officers learn to recognize signs and symptoms of stress, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Service to Self
This 1-hour online course is specifically for fire and emergency medical services personnel. Accredited by CAPCE for continuing education credit, the course addresses occupational stressors; mental health and substance use issues including depression, PTSD, suicidality, and alcohol use; individual and organizational resilience; and healthy coping mechanisms including stress management techniques.

Webcasts

The Understanding Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction: Tips for Disaster Responders (Date Recorded: September 4, 2013) (25:19) webcast can help disaster responders learn about the positive and negative effects of helping disaster survivors.

The Self-Care for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders (Date Recorded: July 31, 2013) (56:47) webcast provides information, best practices, and tools that enable disaster behavioral health responders and supervisors to identify and effectively manage stress and secondary traumatic stress through workplace structures and self-care practices.

The Cultural Awareness: Children and Youth in Disasters (Date Recorded: July 29, 2013) (54:25) webcast assists disaster behavioral health responders in providing culturally aware and appropriate disaster behavioral health services for children, youth, and families affected by natural and human-caused disasters.

The Deployment Supports for Disaster Behavioral Health Responders (Date Recorded: July 10, 2013) (27:17) webcast prepares disaster behavioral health responders and their family members for deployment by reviewing pre- and post-deployment guidelines and ways to prepare for the stress of deployment and reintegration into regular work and family life.

Tip Sheets for First Responders

These tip sheets may help first responders prepare for a disaster response and recover after one has ended. Several of the tip sheets are available in languages other than English.

Other Online Disaster Behavioral Health Trainings

Are you interested in more training on a specific aspect of disaster behavioral health? The Online Disaster Behavioral Health Training collection, part of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series, highlights free online trainings on topics including crisis intervention and Psychological First Aid. Some of these trainings are available for continuing education credit.

Last Updated: 04/19/2019