How to Create a Culture of Wellness

Published on January 21, 2021 by First Responder Wellness

Maintaining personal mental health and wellness can be difficult if the environment around a person is not conducive to it. For this reason, it is essential for various first responder agencies and departments to focus on promoting a culture of wellness. A first responder can do everything right on their end to make sure they are happy and healthy. However, if they are working in a negative, unhealthy environment that is not actively encouraging wellness, it can make it hard for them to sustain such health. Furthermore, if a first responder requires help and the culture at work is not reminding them of the resources available, it may lead them to seek out or resort to other, less healthy ways to cope. One way that can be readily available includes self-medicating with substances. 

The stigmatization of seeking help as a first responder has led many to suffer quietly. However, implementing various peer support programs—such as Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, or Employee Assistant Programs (EAP)—and having these resources readily available, can help bring about more awareness. Witnessing harrowing scenes as a first responder makes it all the more important that their work environment is a place that promotes mental health and wellbeing.

The Asher Model

The Asher Model is a seven-point approach to a culture of wellness. This approach was created and named after Asher, a police officer, and U.S. Marine who committed suicide. The police chief of that department, Neil Gang, was left wondering how the situation could have happened, why they did not see the warning signs, and what he could have done to prevent it. According to Neil Gang’s personal account, Asher’s death made him realize that there needed to be a significant change. After the funeral, everyone returned to work like it was business as usual. With some time and consideration, Gang began creating this model to bring those tough conversations out of the shadows and out into the open to promote officer wellness.  

He realized the need for a multifaceted approach and a paradigm switch where action-focused, innovative problem solvers take a stand, focus on solutions, and don’t just raise awareness of the problem. The seven points of this approach as it relates to a culture of wellness include:

  • Awareness – Creating an environment where “It’s OK not to be OK,” but you should not have to stay that way. Having open and honest discussions with employees, bringing difficult yet important conversations to light.   
  • Solution Focused Approach – Focus on solutions and not the problems. 
  • Peer Support – Create a proactive, trained Peer Support Team along with CISM and therapy dog program. 
  • Resiliency – Educate employees on Resiliency, Mindfulness, PTS, Emotional Intelligence, and solutions such as yoga and breathing exercises
  • Healthy Habits – Encourage physical fitness and healthy eating habits. Allocate budget funds to build or update a fitness facility and discourage candy and unhealthy snacks around the department. Also, remove unhealthy choices from vending machines and substitute healthier options.
  • Spirituality- Develop a Police/Clergy Coalition, Chaplain Program, and community outreach programs, such as “Pray with the Police.”
  • Family- Involve the families from the orientation process forward. Provide access to books on key topics for employees and families (i.e., Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin). Provide relationship, financial wellness, and retirement preparation resources, from rookie to retirement.

While this specific approach to creating a culture of wellness was made with police departments in mind, its sentiment can be carried to other areas and first responder workplaces. Ideas and conversations about how to best promote mental health and wellness are constantly evolving. Even if the specifics of the approach may not be transferable to every field of work, it can fuel inspiration for new approaches, models, and standards that will keep the conversation going regarding first responder wellness. 

Other Helpful Tools

Many other helpful approaches can raise awareness, provide support, and highlight a wellness culture. These can include:

  • Signage – Posting signs/graphics that clearly state the help and resources available to workers, putting up little reminders such as, “you matter” before they head out the door. This can help promote awareness that the department or agency is available and there to help. 
  • Offering a Variety of Resources – Providing wellness apps, such as Cordico—an officer wellness app customizable by an agency—peer support programs, resiliency programs, classes on mindfulness, gratitude, and yoga, or quiet rooms to decompress and relax
  • Outside Engagement – collaborate with organizations outside of the department or agency and get involved with community events. 

Coming back to a wellness culture after experiencing a difficult call can make all the difference to an individual who may be struggling to cope. Although the stigmatization of getting help as a first responder has often led to many suffering in silence, it does not have to continue. With a proactive approach to creating awareness, openness, and honesty regarding mental health and wellness, an individual may be more likely to seek help earlier instead of waiting until it becomes a severe issue. Such a paradigm switch and change in attitude within emergency service environments can help those who help others. At First Responders Wellness, we provide confidential care to those who are the healers and helpers on the frontlines. We understand the value and importance of creating a culture of wellness for those whose jobs can significantly impact their health. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health or addiction, call us at (888) 743-0490.