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First Responders Report Mental Health Issues, but Most Don't Get Care, Poll Finds


The poll surveyed more than 2000 police officers, firefighters, EMTs, lifeguards, and nurses.

Most first-responders report symptoms that could indicate a mental health problem, and 1 in 3 have a formal diagnosis of a disorder. But a new Harris Poll finds the vast majority do not seek care for their symptoms, and some say they would run into trouble seeking help at work.

More than two-thirds (69%) of the 2004 first-responders who responded to the poll, taken over 3 weeks in February, said they experience lack of sleep on the job, and nearly half (46%) experience anxiety. Five groups of workers were included in the poll–police officers, firefighers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), nurses, and lifeguards–and the results were weighted to reflect the overall makeup of each group in the first-responder population.

Harris conducted the poll on behalf of the University of Phoenix College of Social Sciences. Among other findings in the poll:

·         84% say they have experienced a traumatic event on the job.

·         33% have received a formal diagnosis of a disorder such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most of these workers are diagnosed with depression (27%).

·         69% say mental health services are seldom or never used at their place of employment.

·         39% say there would be repercussions if they sought help at work.

The findings have implications beyond mental health–being a first responder is a high-stress job, often involving shift work. Research over the past decade has shown that increased stress, working the night shift, and lack of sleep can all cause higher levels of insulin resistance, exposing men and women in these jobs to greater risk of diabetes and heart disease. Nurses, in fact, are among the groups most studied for the health effects of stress and working the night shift.

Care is not absent, but it is not equal. Approximately half (51%) say they have taken part in mental health training before an event (51%), while (49%) say they have received counseling or other psychological help after an incident. Lifeguards (79%) were most likely to report this.

While mental health care may be available, it is not always through the employer. Nearly three-fourths (74%) say they have access to services, with police officer (88%) and lifeguards (88%) reporting this. But only 60% say their employer makes help available. Police officers and EMTs are the ones most likely to report this.

Not all who need help seek care; about 45% have seen a mental health professional. The biggest problem seems to be a disconnect between what is offered and whether workers feel comfortable seeking care. While 61% say the leaders of their organizations have brought up the importance of seeking help when necessary, 39% say they do not feel comfortable talking to a supervisor about the topic.

Of the 5 groups, nurses were the least likely to report being comfortable discussing mental health issues with a boss, and were the least likely to say their organizations stress the need for care. Police officers and nurses were also the groups most likely to say there would be repercussions at work for seeking help for a mental health issue.


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