First responders (police, fire fighters, EMT’s, and corrections) are typically people who are action oriented and were drawn to this work because they wanted to contribute to the betterment of their communities. They receive specialized training to respond to situations and emergencies that would overwhelm most civilians. The nature of these occupations continuously puts them in harm’s way, as well as regularly exposing them to the intense suffering of others.
It is a common way of coping with all they encounter on a daily basis. In addition, like soldiers in combat, first responders often suffer from moral injury, a term coined by Jonathan Shay which represents “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Journalist Diane Silver described moral injury as “a deep soul wound that pierces a person’s identity, sense of morality, and relationship to society.”
If you are a first responder who is experiencing emotional, physical, and/or mental exhaustion, this is commonly referred to as “burnout.” Unfortunately this term implies that you are not strong enough or resilient enough to handle the demands of your job. If you view your symptoms of “burnout” as the failure of your work culture to prevent or to prepare you to handle moral injury, that could be taking the first step towards your healing.
I have worked in the field of corrections for about 26 years, including the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater.
If you need help, I hope you will contact me.