By Special Guest Writer
Director, Scott County 911 Emergency Service Board
If you had told me I would be writing an article on peer support and mental health, I would have laughed at you. I was one of those old-school public-safety people who thought it made you soft to be involved on this side of it. Calls didn’t affect me… you answer, take care of the incident, and go on to the next. WHAT WAS THE ISSUE? Why does it bother people? Just toughen up and get over it was the mentality I was raised with since I was a baby dispatcher. Showing calls bothered you showed weakness and I would not be weak. I was also raised to believe it would make others question if you could handle the job.
A few months ago, this all changed. In May 2023, I moved to a new position as Director to the board of our county’s newly formed 911 board. This brought in so many new challenges and training. I was no longer a front-line director answering and working calls daily. I had to be able to look at incidents from other people's perspectives and see how they handled calls or issues. It would no longer be an option to only deal with my own calls. It was now my job to help others deal with their calls and find a way to do that without causing more damage.
I signed up last minute for a week-long peer support class. After the first day, I left and doubted even going back. This wasn’t helping me; it just made me angry at those who I considered strong because now they were being weak.
I was asked in the class, "What are the calls that bother you?”
I immediately responded, “They don’t.”
That’s not wrong. Calls don’t bother me. I can take the call, dispatch, work on what needs to be done and go on to the next. No one likes calls that involve children. In short, they suck so that wasn’t really an option for me. I don’t break down during calls or after them… IF I HANDLE THEM.
I called and texted my circle that night and vented about this crazy class I was attending. Some of them had the same responses I did. Is there something wrong with me because this doesn’t bother me like it does other people? What is your worst call? I have no idea; I can’t remember all the calls I have taken.
However, I came to realize that week that the calls that bother me are the ones I have zero control over.
“Hi, my name is Angie and I am a control freak!”
I couldn’t remember the “bad calls” I took because I had learned to compartmentalize them and go on. This is not always a good thing and sometimes it can be a trauma response. But would I break at some point? And how could I help others if I wasn’t sure how to help myself? Now that I am the Director to the board, I needed to find the ability to give control to others and assist them when they need me.
Fortunately, I have a group of friends who do this career as well. They love me and are not afraid to tell me the hard things I need to hear. Find your core! Find your group and be transparent. This is difficult when you are a leader at your agency, county, state, or on your shift! Trust and transparency are not our strong suits, but they are huge priorities in mental health. This is a big reason why I push networking at conferences, meetings, and classes. This is where I found my group, my core people who love and support me, even when I am unlovable and are also not afraid to call me out when needed.
As the week of peer support training continued, I watched my coworkers and friends become more transparent and open to each other. I also began to open up and saw my reactions, or even lack of reactions, was a trauma response. That week began to heal me. I saw where I was lacking in empathy and that I was truly at the point of feeling burnt out.
A new fire was lit inside of me that week. I immediately texted Cassie Sexton and talked to her about what I was feeling and doing. In true Cassie fashion, she was supportive and open to talk about it all with me and give me the encouragement I needed. Cassie reminded me to take care of myself and not run so hard and so fast to burn out again. I signed up to attend a suicide prevention conference with the assistance of Tracy Eldridge. There I learned even more and continued to push toward understanding something for so long that I was clueless about.
In closing, do not be afraid to push out of your comfort zone, attend the classes you aren’t sure about, and reach out to those who believe differently than you. Find yourself and your people who allow you to be completely transparent even when it is difficult. You never know what you will find out about yourself.
About the Author:
Angie Rodgers is the Director at Scott County 911 in Missouri. From front-line communications to Director, she has been involved in public-safety for 19 years. Angie also serves as the Secretary for MOAPCO, Treasurer for the Missouri 911 Directors Association, and a board member for the Missouri Public Safety Communications Conference. She finds comfort in the chaos and loves to network and be surrounded by others in this profession.