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Mental Health Issues/Care for First Responders Studied at CWU


Ann Marie Farina and Code Green Campaign logoA CWU undergraduate student is studying if first responders can better deal with the stress of their jobs by writing about their experiences. Central psychology student Ann Marie Farina of Spokane is collecting data for a survey to better understand the effects that sharing traumatic experiences through writing has on the mental health of first responders.

The research involves first-responder participants completing two brief online surveys, to identify the degree to which he or she experiences different symptoms, common among those who have endured trauma, while serving in their professions. Immediately after the initial surveys, the participant completes a narrative regarding his or her experiences. In two to four weeks respondents will be asked to repeat the surveys. Composite before and after scores will be evaluated to see if writing the narrative results in any changes.

A minimum of 100 responses are needed for the survey, which will be ongoing throughout spring quarter. All former or current first responders over the age of 18 are eligible to participate. Farina, the principal investigator, is working with CWU psychology professor Sara Bender.

“Undergraduate research opportunities, such as this one, have the capacity to initiate real-world change and improve the lives of others,” Bender explained, as mentor to Farina’s research. “Our hope is that the insight provided by this study may bring additional light and influence future policy and practice regarding mental health needs within the first responder community and help inspire additional dialogue regarding these issues.”

Farina points out that reasonable and appropriate safeguards have been used to maximize the confidentiality and security of responses to the survey. Data compilation is planned for summer term, with the goal of having a report published in a peer-reviewed journal in the next year.

The study is an outgrowth of the Code Green Campaign, which Farina, who has served as a paramedic, founded in 2014. The organization raises awareness and provides education related to first responder mental health and suicide rates. It also works to educate first responders on how to reduce stress, improve resilience, and access mental health care, along with aiding provider engagement under the belief that no one should be suffering alone.

One of the projects created by Code Green is a storytelling program for air medical and corrections department personnel, EMTs, emergency response dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics, police, and search and rescue employees and volunteers. During the past four years, nearly 700 of their accounts have been published on the organization’s website and through social media channels.

“We provide first responders with an anonymous outlet to talk about their mental health issues,” Farina explained. “It allows people to see what first responders go through—first-hand—and clearly shows that mental health issues can affect anyone.”

Farina experienced such job-related stress, working with an Advanced Life Support (ALS) transport agency in Spokane County. She helped found Code Green after one of her Spokane co-workers died by suicide, and she and several colleagues from various other agencies found that they’d all experienced the suicide of a co-worker or friend who was a first responder.

“We all knew someone who had taken their own life—and they were not all the same person,” Farina pointed out. “We knew we had to get people talking about what to do about that.”

Initially, Code Green was to be simply a social-media communications project.

“It blew up so big and so quickly that we realized there was a much bigger need than we had anticipated,” Farina explained. “We’ve expanded from there.

Those escalated efforts include helping to overcome the stigma that may prevent first responders from admitting to—and seeking help for—having stress-related issues.

“That means we need to help educate first responders on self and peer care and to advocate for systemic change in how mental health issues are addressed by first-responder agencies,” she continued.

Bender added, “The results of this study should provide validation to Ann’s on-going call-to-action to better support first responders and to acknowledge the trauma that is a consequence of their work.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu

Photo: (L. to r.) Ann Marie Farina, Code Green Campaign logo