Lately, it seems we’re bombarded almost daily with local and national news stories covering a variety of violent situations like mass shootings at schools or the workplace, robberies, child abuse, and even natural disasters. The magnitude of recent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Boston Marathon bombing, and Oklahoma tornadoes, evoke an array of different emotions – disbelief, sadness, anger and sympathy, to name a few.

In many cases, the impact of such tragedies creates a number of victims – those who were injured or killed, their friends and families, local communities and even the country – who must deal with the aftermath. And then, there are the first responders who witness these events and the aftermath firsthand. The psychological stress that they frequently endure is often overlooked. Sadly, if this stress isn’t properly managed, it can lead to unfortunate outcomes on a physical, emotional and mental level. It can even mean the difference between life and death.

Psychological stress is a normal reaction to a threat or disturbing change in the environment.

This stress produces both psychological and physical responses. For example, first responders who have been exposed to certain traumatic events could develop psychological injuries, such as major depression, chronic anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as physical injuries like a heart attack or panic attack.

It can often be challenging for first responders to acknowledge their own stress or ask for help. Fortunately, there are various resources available to help first responders. For instance, the Greater St. Louis Region Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team provides two basic services:

1) Education about stress, self-care, resilience, psychological first aid and stress management, and

2) A crisis intervention service geared towards helping professionals following an incident or event that evokes or may potentially evoke a higher than usual stress reaction.

For more information about these resources, please visit