Firefighters on the scene of a car accident and subsequent fire

Using simulation to help first responders deal with stress

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  • Society

Being a first responder is undoubtedly a challenging and fast-paced job. Whether it is rushing to save people at the scene of a fire, or caring for people who are injured and suffering at the scene of a trauma, the adrenaline runs high and there is limited time to dwell on the situation.

But what about afterwards? What happens when the shift ends, the uniform gets hung up and the first responder leaves work? What then?

Research suggests that the stress comes home with them, and that first responders can face mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts or behaviour. We also know that first responders often lean on family and friends for support.

This is where a new research project by RCSI seeks to help, by improving mental health support for first responders, their families and friends.

HUGS@Home (where HUGS stands for hearing, understanding, guiding and supporting) is looking at how paramedics, firefighters and their social circles manage the stress arising from their emergency work.

The HUGS@Home project, which is funded by the men’s health charity Movember and led by the RCSI SIM Centre for Simulation Education and Research, aims to work with 100 first responders in Ireland and their families and friends to help them recognise how stress can show up in the first responder and how to take steps to help them.

The RCSI research uses simulated scenarios to help first responders and their loved ones learn about how to cope with the after-effects of incidents at work, and how to deliver ‘psychological first aid’ when needed.

Project co-leader Michelle O’Toole – a Senior Simulation Researcher at RCSI SIM – is a former firefighter and advanced paramedic with the Dublin Fire Brigade, bringing insight into the project about the experience of first-responder stress.

Through the RCSI-led scenarios, the project will equip first responders and their family and friends with practical skills to better manage stress, build resilience and provide support, all the while being mindful of their own self care. Then HUGS@Home will help participants to keep strengthening that social haven, and to form supportive connections among themselves.

Community partners on the project include Mental Health Ireland and Dublin Civil Defence.

For more details about the project, visit the HUGS@Home website.

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