Mental illness and behavior disorders are all too common in our society. To our detriment, we tend to brush it under the rug and treat it as taboo. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 out of every 5 Americans suffer from a mental illness and 1 in 25 have severe symptoms. While there may be a higher likelihood that someone will suffer from a mental illness if it runs in their family, bottom line is it could happen to anyone.

1 out of every 5 Americans suffer from a mental illness!

I recently did a presentation on mental health first aid to a large group of first responders, which inspired this blog post. Mental illness is highly prevalent among first responders. In fact, a Canadian study conducted by the Canadian Institute for Public Safety and Treatment, revealed that approximately 44.5% screened positive for one or more mental disorders. Current debrief practices typically include a “What?”, “So, what?”, “Now what?” approach to incidents that focus more on the events. The debrief often ends with “If you need to talk to someone call this number!” Everyone goes on their merry or not so merry way while PTSD and depression, just to name a couple, creep up on those involved in varying degrees. People oftentimes slip through the cracks. While we would like to think that follow up is common practice in the workplace, realistically it is not.

60% did not seek treatment in the last year!

Our culture perpetuates this idea of “toughness”. Signs of weakness include showing sensitivity, compassion, and vulnerability when in fact they are signs of bravery and courage. It takes a lot of strength to ask for help and all too often people stay silent due to feeling like they do not want to impose on others, feelings of shame, not wishing to be thought of as fragile, and the list goes on. 60% did not seek treatment in the last year.

Showing compassion and being a good active listener are two skills at the top of my list that I believe leads to quality patient care. Ever had a moment at a doctor’s office where you felt like just a number and not truly heard? Compare that to an experience with a health care provider that showed compassion and actively listened to you perhaps making you feel cared about and in good hands.

When it comes to the mind and soul we really do need each other!

These skills along with demonstrating vulnerability sit at the top of my list of rapport and relationship building with any human be it someone you have known for a while, a family member, or a stranger. A friend commented that these skills are a “lost art”. I, too, believe this to be true, but have faith that we collectively can bring these skills back to life. What can we do to reintegrate building these skills back into our cultural norms so that people are more likely to ask for help before they plummet to the bottom of the cavern?

Frequent physical training is widely accepted as good practice to stay physically healthy. This is something that can be done alone. However, when it comes to the mind and soul we really do need each other.

Imagine the impact each of us can have if we instituted the practice of showing compassion and vulnerability as well as being an active listener. Something as simple as asking someone “How are you doing?” followed up with “I would like to hear about it” could be the encouragement that someone needs to finally crack open the door they have been secretly knocking on allowing the light to finally shine through.

Encouraging someone to open the door from within can be life saving!

National Alliance on Mental Illness – great resource for information about various mental illnesses/disorders

Mental Health First Aid – Find a course near you!

Mellow, Randy, and JEMS International Editorial Board. “Groundbreaking Data Collected on Mental Health of First Responders.” Journal of Emergency Medical Services, 2 Nov. 2017,