Health and Wellness for a Communications Center

During this session, Anessa Westmoreland and Megan Etheridge discussed stress, burnout, peer support, stigma and self-care. Perhaps more than others, telecommunicators experience stress. We need to recognize stress symptoms and the consequences of stress. Some suggestions to cope with stress included desk yoga, reflexology and aromatherapy oils (yes, they recognized some will be “smell sensitive”). One consequence of stress is burnout, but how do you define burnout? That question was posed to the attendees, and there was agreement that some signs of burnout are avoiding talking to people, being absent from work and physical sickness. One attendee candidly admitted that burnout negatively affects her relationships with family.

We learned about peer support and CISM. Telecommunicators need to know the resources in their area and utilize them. If your center doesn’t offer peer support, can another local jurisdiction help? Many telecommunicators prefer to talk to someone that has been through the same or similar situations, instead of talking with a counselor or someone who is in a different role.

Unfortunately, burnout can cause telecommunicators to stigmatize those who call for help. You can probably think of frequent callers who are labeled as “crazy,” “cray cray,” or “10-96.” Other labels that may come to mind is “challenged,” “lunatic,” “special,” and “wacko.” What can we do to overcome stigmatism? A few suggestions include using respectful language when talking about mental health. For example, telecommunicators can say “a caller is living with bipolar disorder,” instead of saying “she’s bipolar.” Challenge misconceptions about mental health when you see or hear them. Look beyond a person’s mental health and see them as a person. And, finally, offer support.

The session ended with a discussion about self-care. Telecommunicators can engage in 10 things daily to promote self-care. For example, make sure you get sleep and do something pleasurable. Learn how to be better at switching between work and off-work modes. For other helpful self-discussion tips, review the handout in the app!

Everyone has a role to play in wellness in the emergency communications center. Everyone is a leader, regardless of the presence or lack of an official title.

By Aleisha Rucker-Wright