First responders in New Jersey and around the country have very dangerous jobs. Police officers risk being killed or injured in the line of duty, firefighters are expected to enter burning buildings, and paramedics often provide medical treatment just feet away from moving traffic, and all first responders must cope with psychological trauma caused by the tragedies they witness. This is why they have higher rates of divorce, depression and suicide than almost all other professions.
Many police and fire departments now organize peer support groups to help first responders deal with the psychological costs of doing their jobs. Like military veterans, first responders are usually reluctant to seek professional help for mental health issues because they believe only those who have seen what they have seen could understand the challenges they face. These challenges often include post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression and suicidal thoughts. While sharing experiences with colleagues may provide some relief to psychologically traumatized first responders, it is no substitute for regular sessions with a trained and experienced mental health professional.
First responders in New Jersey are more fortunate than police officers, firefighters and paramedics in many other parts of the country because the Garden State is one of only a handful of states with a workers’ compensation program that covers job-related mental health issues like PTSD and depression. Workers in New Jersey have this protection because of case law and not legislation. In 1991, the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled on a case involving a former court records supervisor who developed clinical depression due to the pressures of his job. After hearing arguments, the appeals judges determined that depression and other mental health conditions caused by job-related stress should be covered by the workers’ compensation program.
Seeking help benefits all
Police officers, firefighters and paramedics often develop debilitating mental health problems due to the nature of their jobs, and they are often reluctant to seek professional help. The New Jersey workers’ compensation program covers job-related psychological trauma, which gives first responders in the state an opportunity to receive treatment that many of their colleagues in other parts of the country do not have. When first responders avail themselves of this opportunity, they benefit, their families benefit, their employers benefit and the public benefits.