A global pandemic, evolving technologies, staffing, and the nature of the work itself are just a few of the stressors impacting PSAP employees and leadership. In this episode of “Public Safety Now,” renowned public safety researcher Dr. Michelle Lilly, Associate Professor of Psychology at Northern Illinois University, explains the impact on PSAP workers and offers some guidance for the future.
JW: Hi, and thanks for tuning in to Public Safety Now on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, John Whitehead, Vice President of Sales for U.S. Public Safety here at Hexagon’s Safety and Infrastructure division. We’ve had several conversations over the last few months really about public safety, all of the changes in all of the unusualness, I’ll say, if that’s a word, within 2020, that’s been affecting us. And we’ve talked a little bit about mental health, and we’ve talked about, you know, why that’s important as public safety, whether it’s frontline, dispatchers, police, fire, or EMS, why that’s important to just to keep our mental health on track. Today, we have Dr. Michelle Lilly. She’s an associate professor of clinical psychology at Northern Illinois University. And I’m excited today, really, just to talk to her a little bit about this. Welcome, Michelle. How are you doing?
ML: I’m great. How are you?
JW: Doing well, right? You know, it’s interesting here for all of us, isn’t it? It’s one of those things where, and it’s almost certain to sound cliché, but, you know, I don’t think anybody could have predicted this when we started off 2020, where we would be at in October and just the craziness that’s occurred this year.
ML: Yeah. It’s been one thing after another. And, you know, and it doesn’t seem as though it’s going to be ending, you know, tomorrow. So, this is a kind of prolonged state of kind of heightened stress and arousal that everyone’s experiencing together.
JW: I laugh because I talked to my friends that are in the fire service. And, you know, we say things like, “You know what, I’m just over this. I’m just done. Let’s just move on.” But the fact is, I think you’re right. It’s not that easy. I think that we are going to be in this, in this craziness, for a little bit, and maybe the craziness is just going to become the norm, right?
ML: Oh, geez. Let’s hope not. You know, when people say this is the new normal, I just say, “Oh, wow. I don’t know. If that is the case then I might, you know, move off the map, move off the grid, for a while.”
JW: Yeah. I don’t know where that island is that I can run to, but it’s sounding better and better every day. Well, Dr. Michelle, tell us a little bit about yourself, kind of the journey, and why as an associate professor of psychology, what brought you into mental health with the 9-1-1 community?
ML: Yeah. So, when I was doing my doctoral work at University of Michigan, one of the projects that I worked on was this retired police officer with Dr. Nnamdi Pole, who is now out at Smith College. And I really loved working on that project. My role was to assess for PTSD and, you know, mostly just kind of a research talk. But I really enjoyed working with the retired officers. And then when I started my position at Northern Illinois, one of the first projects I started was to continue working with survivors of intimate partner violence, domestic violence. And I don’t know that I ever thought I would get back into public safety, but I wanted to. So, one day I was talking to a woman who worked in my lab. She was a nontraditional student who was a research assistant. And we started talking about law enforcement. And I was talking about the project that I had worked on with retired law enforcement. And she was kind of laughing. We were kind of talking about cops and how they’re a unique breed. And then she said, “Oh, my husband’s a cop.” And I was like, oh, jeez, I hope I didn’t like just totally put my foot in my mouth, because we were being kind of snarky, you know, like a little bit like, oh, Joe Cop. You know, like but I love cops, right? And so, we had the conversation that ended. A couple days later she came back, and she said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever told you this, but I was a 9-1-1 dispatcher for seven years before I came back to school.” And I said, “Oh, interesting.” And I’m like, you didn’t tell me that. She goes, No, I’m, you know, you don’t think about it, which I think is telling in and of itself, right, that I think 9-1-1 oftentimes just, you know, that kind of ethos is are we part of the public safety family or are we not, you know? And so, we were kind of talking about that. And then she said, “I looked through the databases, and I did not find a single empirical article on mental health and wellness in 9-1-1.” And I just thought that that can’t be. And then she starts telling me about the job, which I’m sure most people in the public don’t truly understand how incredibly taxing it is, the task demands associated with it, the high level of recurrent exposure to trauma. And so, I just said, you know, we need to do a project. You know, I think project was actually her idea. And I was like, yep, we’re going to run with that. She leveraged some of her contacts from the 9-1-1 space. And then we did our first project with about 170 9-1-1 folks from across the country. We found about 3.5 to 5 percent were screening positive, 3.5 to 5 percent were screening positive for PTSD. And we’re kind of like, mm. We kind of suspected that as a measurement issue. So, I went back and did a large-scale study with over 800 communicators from across the country. And in that study, what we found is about 17 to 25 percent screened positive for PTSD and about 20 to 25 percent screened positive for major depression. I had no idea the impact that this would have when we published that very first study in 2012. There was a lot of media coverage. We were pretty instantly invited to go to a number of conferences, both at state level and national level conferences, APCO, NENA. And the level of gratitude and appreciation people had for this work was really overwhelming to me. I mean, I’m an academic, so I’m used to people reading, like, none of my articles. You know, like they sit there, like, maybe 10 people read them. And so, to have people outside of academia asking for a copy of the paper was really eye-opening for me.
JW: And it shows, I think, that the need is there. It’s interesting that you and your fellow researcher, who used to be a dispatcher, you know, when she came in and said that, right, that there’s not a lot of, you know, peer-reviewed articles out there on the effects that occur in dispatch, I think that’s indicative. You said that was back, you know, in the early 2000s, I’m guessing, and your paper comes out in 2012. I think that that really still shows, even today, kind of where dispatch fits within public safety. I’ve said it on this show a few times, but just for your knowledge, right, I come from a dispatch background. Started in the mid ‘90s and wore the headset and rode the chair for years. And while I look back on it and say it’s, you know, it’s a sense of pride for me to be able to say that I did that. It’s definitely interesting to see how much things have changed, but at least on the mental health side, how much things have not changed. You know, I jokingly say that the public doesn’t know this, with the exception of years ago—what was it?—Rescue 911, with William Shatner. Some friends of mine coined the phrase William Shatner’s the antichrist of 9-1-1 because he made it look like everybody had magic and that they would quickly solve problems, and within a couple of minutes, your grandma would be just fine. But that’s really what the public knew, as far as what they dealt with. It’s always kind of been the unknown, the unknown vertical, if you will, within public safety. So, I’m excited, just like I said, to hear a little bit about what some of the things that you found. But it is amazing to me, 25 percent PTSD, 25 percent major depression. As we look around a room in a dispatch centre, one out of every four has this, and it’s not really something that’s in most policy manuals and on the tongues of most administrators at this point.
ML: Yeah. I mean, I do think that the culture around this is certainly changing. So when we presented at a conference for the first time in 2012, we went to APCO in Minneapolis. And me and Heather, who was the coauthor and fellow researcher, we presented this, and there were, like, maybe 12 people who came. It was in this huge room. And then subsequently, I think the next year in 2013, I presented again, and I can’t remember if it was at APCO or NENA, but it was a chilly crowd. I mean, I got a lot of kick back, and there were people kind of sitting there with their arms crossed and getting kind of grilled on the research. And I remember at that time thinking, like, I don’t know that I want to continue doing this, right, even though, conversely, there are other folks who were like, this is amazing. This needs the spotlight. But I continued, I persisted. And now, you know, you go to a conference, and you’re seeing more and more dispatchers speaking up and talking about their own PTSD. So, we have Tracy Eldridge, who works for RapidSOS, and we have Nicole Jaynie, who’s still working within the 9-1-1 space in Chelsea. And so, you know, we have people talking about their PTSD and their journey through it. You know, we have Ricardo Martinez, who does the Within the Trenches podcast, and while it’s certainly not just focused on PTSD, you know, there’s more discussion about the inherent kind of psychological and emotional risks that you take going into this work. And so, I think just in the eight years that I’ve been hanging out in the 9-1-1 space, I’ve seen incredible transformation. But we’re still not there. So, I think people are talking about it, but it hasn’t made its way into like policy manuals or in planning. I don’t think so, not on a large scale.
JW: Yeah. And so, you know, we spoke with Tracy Eldridge a few months ago and had her here on the podcast. And I mean, what a great representative, to your point, to be able to go out there and talk about, you know, I wore that headset and this is what I battled with. And she tells her story, just it’s a phenomenal story to be able to talk to Tracy. And I love what she’s doing. I know that she is, you know, with RapidSOS now, but she’s also doing some things out on the social media circuit that says, hey, it’s okay to talk about this. And so, I definitely respect Tracy for what she’s done and the light that she’s brought in. And then, you know, you talked about Ricardo. It really is just giving us areas to talk about this and say, hey, it’s okay. You know, even on this podcast, when we were talking about bringing you on, I was looking at it going, well, you know, we already talked about this once. Do we need to bring this up? And, you know what, we do. And that’s kind of why we’re here today, because I think it’s just that important. I know that a lot of my friends that are still in the industry, right. I don’t want to say anybody’s dismissing it. I will use the word dismiss, but I don’t mean it to be like they’re just ignoring it. They know it’s there, but they’re not. I really think that a lot of people just believe that it’s just part of the job. I take a call, or even our frontline workers. I handle an incident. And you know what? Bad stuff happens to people, and this is just my job, and I need to suck it up and just get on with the next call. And I really think that that mentality, to your point, is changing as people become aware and are able to talk to them.
ML: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important to remember that it’s 25 percent are screened positive, meaning 75 percent are not, you know? And so, the fact of matter is, is that the rule is resilience. Most folks, and not to say that they’re not suffering in some other way or not to say that they’re underreporting symptoms or don’t have symptoms. But, you know, the fact of the matter is, is that resilience is the rule. People handle this job really well. I couldn’t handle it. But, you know, 9-1-1 is an incredibly robust, resilient population of folks. But what’s also really important to remember is that for those who do develop symptoms, they’re kind of like, well, you just deal with it, you just deal with it, you just deal with it. But the problem with that or the kind of misstep in that is that there are very effective treatments for PTSD. It is a treatable condition. And these are time-limited, structured approaches that can help relieve PTSD symptoms. So, this kind of belief that, you know, if you do develop PTSD, you’re always going to have it, and you can’t do the job, is actually untrue. And so that’s part of what I really try to talk to people about, also, as a licenced clinical psychologist, is there are really great, effective, short-term treatments for PTSD that for most folks will give them symptom relief. So that’s an important thing that I’m always kind of beating the drum about.
JW: Yeah. And that’s just a great new story, right? I mean, it’s like you’ve got to be able to understand, one, that you could be affected. And maybe you’re not. To your point, 75 percent of the dispatch population is not affected today or at least at the time of that study. I think that, you know, again, being in public safety myself, maybe I could put it a different way and say I have yet to have that call that’s affected me in that manner, or I have yet to have that combination of calls that has affected me in that manner. And I think that that’s, you know, it’s just important to know that, to your point, that there is help out there for those that are, and it’s not a career-ending type of debilitation, if you will.
ML: Absolutely. Absolutely.
JW: So, what would you tell some of the, you know, we talked about how it doesn’t seem to be the norm to be in policy manuals. You know, and I have seen a lot of agencies across the U.S. that are putting in, I won’t call them wellness centres, but like quiet rooms, the ability to take a call and then just walk away, go into a quiet room, and kind of, you know, kind of get back in line, do what you need, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques to kind of get back into where you were prior to that call. I have seen that. But what would you say to some of the administrators, supervisors, and really to get them see that this is a real issue, and it’s not just part of the job?
ML: Well, I think part of what I’ve been trying to put in people’s faces a bit is the link between having psychopathol— or symptoms is like you don’t even have to meet full criteria for something like PTSD or depression to have it affect you, right? So, we know that symptoms of PTSD are inattention, trouble making decisions, problem with your mood. These all directly affect your performance. And if we want an effective, successful workforce, then we absolutely must prioritise mental health or folks aren’t going to be functioning at the level they could be functioning. They’re more likely to make mistakes. They’re more likely to have delays in their decision making. And so, this is a—it’s not just kind of an emotional-health issue. It’s also a performance issue. We also know that many individuals with depression or PTSD use alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication. And being impaired certainly also will affect performance. And so, it’s not just an emotional-health issue. It’s truly a performance issue in addition to the psychological suffering that individuals are going through. So that’s like one of the first. There’s kind of like a well, you know, they can get help outside of, you know, whatever. There’s kind of a dismissive quality to it. Like, you’re not valuing your own public performance indicators.
JW: Yeah. I look back and think about, you know, when I became operations manager, how much time I spent looking for the perfect chair for dispatchers, you know, talking to dispatchers, getting their thoughts on the perfect headset, making equipment type of stuff to make sure that the team was comfortable, to make sure that my employees had the necessary tools in place to be able to do their job effectively, and in a long run, in a long-term environment. And looking back on that now, if I’d fast forward that same work to today, this needs to also be part of that. Sure, the headsets are important. And yeah, the chair comfort’s important. And I’m not going to make light of those, because that really is a big deal. But to your point, making sure that there are also tools in dealing with the mental health, that’s just as important.
ML: Absolutely. Yeah. The ergonomics stuff is very important, right, because we also know that when people are physically uncomfortable or physically distressed, it also impacts their mental health. And when people are, you know, if they’re physically distressed and uncomfortable, it’s going to make it harder for them to perform. But, you know, that kind of stuff feels more easy to tackle sometimes, I think, for folks than the emotional health piece.
JW: Well, if there hasn’t been a year in the past, I’d say 2020 is definitely the year. I mean, as we talked about earlier, right? This year’s been particularly challenging, especially for 9-1-1 and public safety. You know, I know everybody immediately thinks COVID, but also a lot of the just the political chaos and the things that are going on in the different cities, the news headlines and the sensationalism that’s occurring, I’ll say, within the media, all of those things are affecting 9-1-1 and public safety. What are your thoughts and some steps maybe that we can take to kind of get through these current times, looking at it from a mental health point of view?
ML: Yeah. That’s a really great question. And it’s not, you know, I haven’t done a more recent study in 9-1-1, but I actually did just release a white paper with law enforcement. And we found that 47 percent in a sample of 1,300 law enforcement officers screened positive for PTSD. 47 percent. And nearly 40 percent are screened positive for depression. You know, I would imagine that that 25 percent that I published in 2015 is probably a little bit different right now for 9-1-1 as well, given all the civil unrest, given COVID, given all of the stressors that we’re experiencing. And you don’t have, I mean, I think law enforcement is probably perhaps the most vilified group or a more vilified group in the country. But, you know, it’s a family, so it affects 9-1-1, and many 9-1-1 folks are in relationships or married to or care deeply about law enforcement. And in addition to the fact that 9-1-1 is handling a lot of really distressing, disturbing calls. So, yeah, it’s the mental health impact of 2020 on public safety, I think, particularly law enforcement, but again, we just don’t have the data for 9-1-1, as far as I know, it’s profound. So, your question was, you know, what do we do about that, right?
ML: I think, you know, that’s a hard question, right? I think a lot of people right now are kind of tapped to the max. In addition to the civil unrest and the things that you might be experiencing at home, you might also have little kids at home. I personally have eight-year-old twins who are now home e-learning, and the additional level of kind of stress and responsibility and role strain and task demands has changed. And so, you know, I think many people are reaching a point where there’s a kind of high level of even the kind of numbness and depletion that we just keep soldiering on because that’s what we have to do.
So, you know, what I always say is pick one self-care thing a day. It doesn’t even need to be lengthy but doing one thing for yourself every day. And don’t let your self-care goals compete with each other. So right now, it’s very unrealistic for somebody to think—and I’m just being honest, right?—it’s unrealistic to be like, I’m going to eat a healthy diet. I’m going to exercise 30 minutes. I’m going to meditate for 10, and then I’m going to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right?
ML: Right now, for most folks, that’s just not feasible. You know, what I’ve told people is we all need to, like, integrate more grace in our lives. And that’s extending grace to other people because we know that almost everyone is suffering deeply right now. So very few people are kind of at their best. But really, the grace needs to be extended inward, right? Say no. Say no to things. And say no to things and then don’t guilt yourself for it. I think, you know, when you have these groups that are helpers, right, people who save lives, people who do this because they care about people, there tends to be this difficulty with saying no. And no is your friend right now. The word “No. I’m sorry, I can’t do that right now.” And then forgiving yourself for saying no is really important. And I think all we need right now is a big heaping dose of grace for others and ourselves. And I think, again, it’s hard for public safety to have that kind of health, compassion kind of directed inwards. And I think right now, too, we just need to really focus on our values. You know, what are your values? You know, I’m somebody who loves to advance things and achieve and build things and spread knowledge. But in the context of COVID, what I’ve really had to do is step back, and what is my number one value? My number one value in life is to spread joy and knowledge. And so right now, achievement, advancement, those things, they’re just not my focus. And so, it’s helped me refocus on, for example, my children. Instead of my kids just being one more kind of thing in the home that I’m trying to manage, it’s like, no, no, I’ve got to step back and really focus on my values and live a value-driven life right now.
JW: You know, I’ve asked that question to several people, a few on this podcast and a couple just in my personal life, you know, what are some things and some steps people can do to get through this? And it’s always interesting because I think in the back of my head, I’m thinking that someone is going to have this magic potion. They have this magic answer that is going to just be like, oh, my god, I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. But, oh, it truly does make it all better. But really what I heard you say, and what I’ve heard everyone else say, is just do the one thing, just start small. And I like some of the ways that you brought that up. I mean, it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to just take some time for yourself and be able to do that, right? If you’re into volunteering, go volunteer for a few minutes or for maybe an hour a week and just say, hey, I’m going to take my mind completely off of public safety and my day-to-day job. If you’re into, you know, if you have children at home and your family at home, it’s okay to shut it off, you know. Years ago, everybody, had scanners in our house. It’s okay to turn those off and not be 24/7 Mr. or Mrs. Public Safety. Get away from that and enjoy some of those little moments, because that seems to be the same thought that everybody says, just do a little bit, one thing, just for yourself.
ML: Yep. absolutely. Yeah. And the thing is, you know, in the end, the way we’re going to get through this is through deep human connection, especially when we’re lacking it right now. So, finding those opportunities to really connect when they’re available, again, it might be with your kid, it might be with, you know, as essential workers, you guys get to still go out into the world. I know that sounds terrible because this looks very different, right? Like, one of my best friends is a cop, and it’s like his life has revolved around COVID. Now, it’s totally different because of civil unrest, but pre that, when it was just COVID, certainly his schedule changed and some of his procedures changed, but his life didn’t change tremendously. He was still going to work. He was still seeing people. He looked more out in the world. And then there’s like this other side of society who are not sure, who are just home and isolated and not getting the social contact that we need. We’re social creatures, right?
ML: We are biologically social creatures, and so it looks different for different people. But in the end, I think everyone is just reaching a point of depletion. And so, we just need to do one thing: focus on our values. And I also say if you find yourself using phrases like there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to blah, blah, blah. Or there’s no reason why I can’t blah, blah, blah. Those are dangerous statements because they’re guilt-laden statements. And I think a lot of folks right now feel like we should just be able to continue on and live life as normal. But the fact the matter is, life is not normal right now. It is not business as usual for most people. And so, you know, I was talking to somebody who was home because they’re a professor. And she was just saying, like, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to exercise every day since I’m home. I’m like, you’re at home with three children—
JW: That’s right.
ML: —and trying to do your job. Of course, you can’t exercise. What are you talking about? Go for a 10-minute walk and call it a day.
JW: Yeah. It’s the little things, right? Kind of to your point earlier, if you sit down and say, okay, next Monday I am going to start eating right and exercising 30 minutes and praying for 45 minutes a day and doing that, I’m making a change. No. Come on. Let’s be real. That’s going to last a day, maybe two. I mean, at the end of this, if you change that one thing and you focus on that one thing and you do that, okay, then now that becomes part of your norm. Now add another little thing to it. And we’ve had past guests say that, right? Have this be a building process. You know, don’t try to change the whole building in one day, right? You know, do it a little piece at a time. So, I think that’s good advice. Well, you know, we talked about, you know, public perception of 9-1-1. And, you know, I know I tongue in cheek talked about, you know, William Shatner’s show. I actually was watching the other night this new thing on television called Emergency Call. And I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve just seen a couple, two or three of the first episodes, but I thought they’re doing a good job. And my thought while watching it wasn’t just, ooh, this is great because I get to watch 9-1-1 people in action. But it’s actually showing the real aspects of the job. I don’t know when it was, a week or two ago, they actually had a missing child, where a dispatcher was on the phone and the emotional toll that that one call took on her, you could just tell. And I tied that back to past conversations and was thinking about this conversation when I was watching it, thinking, this is good for public perception to be able to see. It’s not just a person on the other end of the phone saying, you know, what’s your address, what’s your name, okay, what’s your problem? They’re not rolling their eyes. They’re not doing a crossword puzzle and you’re bugging them. These people are emotionally into your call for those few moments that you’re on the call with them. And to me, that’s a great step, just in a public view of people really understanding this a little more. Now, that’s a long opening to kind of ask you a question. Where do you see the future of 9-1-1 going? As maybe people are getting educated internally about the mental health aspects and maybe the public’s getting a little more educated about what the 9-1-1 deals with, where do you kind of see the future of 9-1-1 going in this regard?
ML: That’s a great question. You know, I think especially NENA, kudos to NENA for their wellness continuum and all the work that they’re doing and rewriting a stress standard that I was involved in some of that this summer, rewriting aspects of 9-1-1 work that contribute to kind of stress and health problems. And so really putting in really just tremendous effort, I think, as we continue to talk about PTSD, as people continue—and it’s not just PTSD, because some people develop PTSD, but some won’t, but it doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. They might experience things like depression or anxiety. And so, I think the more that we talk about these issues, the more that we continue to train is important. There’s efforts made to develop peer-support networks of formal and informal programming within agencies. I think peer support could be huge. Because I’ll tell you as a clinical psychologist that has a behavioural health practise, you would think that my phone would be ringing off the hook right now. But it’s not. And I think partly because people are so depleted that they don’t want to go to therapy right now, and they don’t have time. But what I will tell you is it’s really hard to get public safety to seek out professional services. It just is. There’s still that stigma. I think that will change over time. But in the interim especially, I think there is a lot of legs under peer support, and I think it can have a really profound impact. So, I see, personally, this improving over time. I think one of the biggest things that has changed and will continue to change is acknowledgement. And if people can just say, “Man, that call really bothered me,” that actually in and of itself can have a profound effect because then the person that’s suppressing and avoiding. And we know that suppression and avoidance are really bad coping strategies because long term it actually prolongs the stress. It doesn’t allow your body to naturally process. So, I think just getting people to the point where either to themselves or with a peer can say, “Man, that call really sucked. And it really drained me, and I just need some space,” it’s huge. And that in and of itself is huge. So, I do see these things getting better. And I do see there being more education on the public. However, I don’t know if that’s really translated to the number of kind of crap calls that 9-1-1 deals with, where people call and ask for the time or they call and ask for a ride or pizza or whatever, right?
ML: So, I don’t know that that has translated into anything beneficial quite yet. But I do think that I see – and I didn’t see this, you know, 10 years ago when I started doing this work – I see more and more kind of public safety, announcement type things of this is when you call 9-1-1. And so, I think hopefully that will continue to change.
JW: Yeah. It could be that, you know, we’ve spent a lot of time in the 9-1-1 community educating the public on proper 9-1-1 usage, and just when to call. You know, I laugh because I still think that there’s this older generation that I don’t care what limb is severed, they’re still going to not call 9-1-1. They’re going to take you to the hospital or call their seven-digit number to their doctor.
JW: So, we’ve taken a lot of time and effort to try to educate people on the proper use of 9-1-1. You know, there could be a whole other campaign. And I think to your point, NENA is helping with this, and maybe the APCOs of the world, that says we need to educate the public on some of the importance of what this job is and what they’re dealing with. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to where we could say, yep, everybody is compassionate and has empathy when they call 9-1-1. I mean, at the end of the day, they’re still dealing with the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, at least in that moment in time. So, it’s always going to be difficult for people to be calling 9-1-1. I don’t ever see anyone, you know, calling 9-1-1 and thanking the dispatcher and then giving them the fact that someone’s having a heart attack in the other room.
JW: I think that just educating and just getting it out there might be something 9-1-1 centres could do during their public day and as they’re bringing people in and educating them on all the other aspects. It seems like this is just another part of the process that I think that we just need to let people be aware of what’s going on out there. And you talked about supporting each other. So, I’ll just drill into that here before we go. But I know that when I was part of my crew, we became a family. We worked 12-hour shifts. So, I was with my crew, sometimes more than I was with my family during the week times. And, you know, I think that that’s important for us to just talk about here is just to focus on that a little bit, because I really think that we have a responsibility to take care of each other. And when we see someone struggling—I’ll go to that TSA line—if you see something, say something. And I don’t think it has to be real confrontational, but I think it could just be, you know, hey, how you doing? Or you’re standing out front and you’re having a cup of coffee, and you doing okay? You know, you seemed like you were a little upset after that call. I mean, is there responsibility, I guess, on all of us to kind of take care of each other?
ML: Absolutely. Because this is a team. I mean, and it is your work family and, you know, every family’s got nuts, and they’ve got, like, you know, angry person and the nutty cousin. But it is. The onus is on us. And I say “us” even though I’m not in public safety, but I feel like I’m an honorary public safety person. But the onus is on us to take, yeah, absolutely, take care of each other. And you don’t need to go in guns blazing, like, how are you, and I noticed that you’re upset, because we know that, especially for people who are withdrawn, just talking, just putting words out of your mouth, lights up areas of your brain that become underactive when you’re, for example, depressed. And so, a lot of it is just getting people to continue to engage and, yeah, giving them the opportunity to say, “Man, I handled a call yesterday that just really was terrible.” And they might say that, or they might not. But, you know, just being there for folks and knowing that, you know, there’s, you know, receptive folks who aren’t going to jeopardise their confidentiality. There’s now, you know, and they formalise peer-support programmes. There are very strict kind of rules if you’re going to be a peer mentor, about not taking notes, not writing down names, and you have to maintain confidentiality, otherwise it stinks, because then no one’s going to say anything if there are repercussions for talking. And so, I think, yeah, the onus is on the industry to take care of each other. And I know this is going to sound maybe like a depressing end to what I’m saying, but no one else is going to, right?
ML: Organisations don’t love you. They don’t. They can’t. It’s an organisation. And by the end of the day, an organisation is not just balancing care for their employees, but they’re managing dollars, right?
ML: They’re making business decisions. And so even if you work for a great organisation, that organisation can still sometimes fail you. But your, hopefully, your coworkers won’t.
JW: Yeah. I like that because I think you’re right. I don’t think that that’s negative. I think at the end of the day, whether it’s a government entity or a private entity, it’s a business on some level, that has budgeting concerns. And to your point, it really is kind of a grassroots effort, right? We need to take care of each other. We need to be looking out for each other. And I like some of the things that you brought up there. Let’s just talk about it. Let’s just have conversation. And I think the last thing I would say—this came, I think, from Tracy when she was on—you know, if you’re going from a hot call out into the break room to look at your phone and now you start scrolling through the news or now you start going through social media and that’s what you’re calling a break, oh my god. Shut that off, because that’s probably going to just keep dumping a lot of that kind of it to your brain. And I just like what you said. Let’s just go out and just have a conversation, and let’s get passionate. We don’t have to be a professional psychologist to have a sit down with somebody. We can just sit there and just give someone an ear to talk to. And I think that’s important.
ML: Yep. Absolutely.
JW: Well, Dr. Michelle, it has been great to talk to you. This has been good. I know you said that you’re not in public safety, but I would disagree. I think that, for sure, you are doing some great things for public safety and just getting out there and just letting us know that it’s okay to talk about this and it’s okay to focus on this. I mean, that is a very important aspect of 9-1-1, police, fire, EMS, and just all public safety, and just making sure that we’re not out there by ourselves and that we know that we’ve got support. So, I just wanted to once again just thank you for being our guest here today. And to hear additional episodes or learn more, visit us at hxgnspotlight.com. And thanks for tuning in.