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First Responders: Barriers to Mental Health Care

First responders are professionals who generally put themselves at risk on the front lines of emergencies or disasters. First responders include, but are not limited, to police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Individuals who take on these roles are exposed to physical and mental exhaustion; the intensive nature of these jobs, combined with the stigma and barriers to care, results in the deterrence of seeking assistance to address mental health difficulties. Failure to seek help, or delaying seeking help, slows the recovery time and can lead to severe events, such as suicide or substance abuse.


The stigma surrounding therapy is the most frequently identified barrier to seeking mental health care. The stigma around mental health treatment leads to avoidance of seeking help and negatively impacts treatment outcomes. Additional barriers to mental health issues include not knowing where to seek help and having limited resources to find help when needed. Limited resources or having no transportation may serve as a barrier, as necessary services may not be conveniently located. Denial of a need for services or negative past experiences also serves as barriers.

Combating Stigma and Barriers

In order to increase the usage of mental health services, the barriers need to be addressed. Some methods to promote healthier outcomes could include:

  • Psychiatric assessment could be offered in general health care settings instead of district mental health sites to encourage less local knowledge of a person receiving treatment. 
  • Assessments could be implemented as a care routine rather than based on symptoms. 
  • Utilize telehealth platforms to provide mental health services as it allows for a discrete means to attain required services and reduces the sense of judgment. 

Addressing stigma head-on and encouraging help-seeking early will reduce the escalation of serious stress claims.

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