COLORADO SPRINGS — There is trauma after the fact for witnesses of a tragedy like the mass killing during a birthday party in Colorado Springs. The children who survived are with family and will be offered support. It is part of the job first responders signed up for, but they still have to cope.
First responders see and experience horrific things up close. "Our mind stores this stuff and if we don't have a way to release it safely it could rear its head whenever," said Colorado Springs Police Department, Wellness Sergeant, Eric Frederic. A couple of years back he was charged with stepping up attention to mental and emotional health in the department. An improved network of resources and programs is now in place.
Programs are fine, but you need staff willing to see a problem and accept some guidance when dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy. "We want to get in there and help people process these emotions, process the feelings, process the hurt, the grief, the fear,” said Frederic, “Get rid of the stigma and say this is okay, you're human."
The Colorado Springs Police Department wellness plan offers a progression of support. “This has been proven to help,” said Frederic.
A simple open dialogue with colleagues in the same section serves as a starting point for talking about things some may avoid discussing. “It may not be normal for you, but it’s a normal psychological response to what you experienced,” said Frederic.
The discourse can ramp up through peer support. Several dozen volunteers who have gone through support training are available to offer perspective on troubling thoughts and emotions caused by an on-the-job response.
If negative reactions persist there are psychologists under contract with the department. They are a free and confidential resource.
Frederic also finds a proactive approach can minimize an individual’s internal debate over whether they may benefit from a discussion about a post-traumatic scenario. An example is invitations for group wellness debrief going to all who responded to the mass shooting. "Peer support people there, we're going to have psychologists there, we're going to have chaplains there." Reactions and triggers are different for everyone in every situation. The point of the wellness program is to identify potential issues before they interfere in personal or professional lives.