911 Training Institute
Colored lights decorate houses with Santa’s sleigh and nativity scenes in front yards. Decorated trees can be seen through windows in the living rooms of houses across the nation. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Who wants to drink eggnog and have a movie marathon while sitting by the fire?
There is joy in the air and holiday cheer spreads through homes, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces… except in public-safety. Why is it so difficult for police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to work the holidays? First-responders can sometimes experience something best described as the “holiday blues”, or extreme degrees of depression and anxiety triggered by the holiday season (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
Holiday blues can infect public-safety agencies and spread like a virus. Mental health professionals have their own theories about what causes the holiday blues, such as poor eating/sleeping habits, hectic scheduling, and lack of physical exercise. But these factors can cause holiday blues for any ordinary person in any occupation, so there must be a better explanation for why the blues can be so pervasive in fields of public-safety during the holiday season.
Public-safety knows no holidays. First-responders mount up to serve their communities 24/7/365. Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Year’s? Just three more days on the calendar in public-safety. Violent crimes, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and general misfortunes do not recognize these three days as holidays, so they take no breaks. Emergency dispatchers still answer calls on Christmas morning. Police officers, firefighters, and EMT’s still respond to scenes. And therein lies the problem.
The weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s should be a time of joyous celebration with family and loved ones. It begins with a giant feast when people remember all they have for which to be thankful and count their blessings. These feelings evolve in the weeks leading up to Christmas as people franticly shop to find special gifts for the special people in their lives. People are generally kinder, more generous, more patient, more grateful, and more cheerful. A spirit of giving fills people up and they feel compelled to do random acts of kindness. Why? Because it’s Christmas! That is what makes the holiday season so beautiful. It briefly transforms most people into better versions of themselves and they find peace from the busyness of life. But sometimes it’s hard for first-responders to experience those feelings.
Dispatchers answer countless calls throughout the year, but there is something different about answering a call from a homeless man calling 9-1-1 on Christmas Eve simply because he has no one else to talk to. Police officers respond to vehicle burglaries every day, but the family minivan that gets burglarized days before Christmas and has all the kids’ presents stolen somehow feels different. The firefighters who respond to a structure fire of a house fully engulfed and find a family standing at the curb crying in disbelief… the EMT’s who perform CPR on a baby who has stopped breathing, but to no avail… first-responders handle these types of incidents all year long, but these calls feel different during the holiday season.
At a time of year when people should be happy, loving, and grateful, unspeakable acts of violence and tragedy still occur. The dichotomy between the sociological embrace of the holidays and occupational stress-related experiences for first-responders is never stronger than during the Christmas season. As a result, feelings of helplessness, sadness, and guilt can be more intense for first-responders during the holidays. These worlds collide.
Sadness is still resonating from the last call when first-responders are needed for another one, and the sadness intensifies with accumulation. Multiply that times a long 12-hour shift and add a couple of mandated overtime days that were unexpected. It is exasperated by thoughts like, “terrible, bad things like this should not happen during this time of year”, thus creating deeper feelings of irritability and depression. And yet, there is no easy way for first-responders to defeat the holiday blues because society still desperately needs them to respond to emergencies, even on days like Christmas.
However, society itself can help its first-responders manage the holiday blues by reminding them they are appreciated, especially during the holiday season. Remember this Christmas, as you are sitting around your dining room table surrounded by family and loved ones, eating the full-course meal, rooting for your favorite sports team, and preparing for gift exchange that first-responders are working and ready in the event there is an emergency at your home. Let us show them more compassion and appreciation this holiday season, for their job alone is difficult enough, and just maybe... we can help them fight the holiday blues.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays first-responders!
Work Cited and Suggested Reading
Mayo Clinic, (2020). Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. Retrieved December, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544.