Creating a culture of wellness in the first responder workplace is imperative in fostering healthy habits in response to the trauma that will be faced in the field.
It’s even more critical for first responder employers to actively create dialogue with departments regarding mental health implications, provide programming for those suffering from post traumatic stress, and share resources that they can utilize to lead a life of wellness.
Maintaining personal mental health and wellness can be difficult if the environment around a person is not conducive to it. However, if they’re working in a negative, unhealthy environment that is not actively encouraging wellness, it can be challenging to sustain such health, especially in their home life. 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 of coping.
The stigmatization of first responders seeking assistance has led millions to suffer in silence. But, implementing various peer support programs such as Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, or Employee Assistant Programs and having these resources readily available can help bring about more awareness in and around the workplace.
What is the Asher Model? How is it helpful?
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 didn’t see the warning signs and what he could have done to prevent it.
According to Gang’s account, Asher’s death made him realize that there needed to be a significant change. 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 – Create an environment where “It’s okay not to be okay.” Having open and honest discussions with employees about wellness will forge camaraderie and comfort.
- Solution Focused Approach – Focus on creating solutions and not the problems.
- Peer Support – Create a proactive, trained peer support team along with CISM and a therapy dog program.
- Resiliency – Educate employees on resiliency, mindfulness, PTS, emotional intelligence, and simple daily wellness exercises like yoga, deep breathing, and mindful meditation.
- Healthy Habits – Encourage physical fitness and healthy eating habits in the workplace. Allocate budget funds to build a fitness facility and remove unhealthy options from vending machines and substitute with healthier items.
- Spirituality- Develop a police/clergy coalition, chaplain program, and community outreach programming, like “Pray with the Police.”
- Family- Involve first responder families from the orientation process forward. Providing access to digital wellness resources, relationship support, financial literacy, and retirement preparation tools, from rookie to retirement.
While the Asher Model’s 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, such as fire, emergency medical services, and nurses.
It’s imperative to note that mental health and wellness programming, ideas, and conversations are continuously 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 in the workplace and far beyond.