Dr. Anna Courie captivated a room of 100 first responders with her definition of “wellness.”
“Wellness is a journey,” she said. “It’s not always going to be a path straight up. And it’s not always going to be down. It’s going to be a journey. And it’s going to be different for everybody no matter where they are on that journey. And it starts with being there.”
As a national expert on first responder health and wellness, Dr. Courie was not only applauding the audience for taking steps towards bettering their own wellness but was also highlighting the need for agencies and organizations to support their officers in doing so.
The themes of first responder health and wellness and “being there” for public safety practitioners ran throughout the two-day regional FirstNet Summit held recently at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Held May 3-4, 2022, the Summit was hosted by the State of New Hampshire and sponsored by FirstNet®, Built with AT&T.
This timing was fitting since May is also recognized nationally as Mental Health Awareness Month. Compared to the general population, first responders:
- Experience higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, burnout, anxiety and other mental health issues.1
- And in law enforcement, one study found a more than 20-year difference in life expectancy compared to the average American male.2
Hoping to address those issues, the Summit featured a keynote speech from Dr. Courie, Director of Responder Wellness at FirstNet, in which she discussed critical guidance, statistics and best practices for all members of the public safety community. Along with viewing technology and resource demonstrations, attendees were also able to participate in a daylong health and wellness training workshop with the All Clear Foundation and interact with Dex, a specially trained therapy dog that is part of FirstNet’s ROG the Dog program.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu joined NH Department of Safety Commissioner Robert L. Quinn and University of New Hampshire Police Chief Paul Dean to speak with the first responders about the importance of mental well-being.
“This was an unspoken crisis 5, 10 years ago. And we’re doing everything we can at the state level to really bring it to light,” Governor Sununu said at the summit. “It hits all of us in some way. Whether it’s in our departments, whether it’s in our family, whether it’s a coworker, whether it’s at home – it could be anywhere.”
Speaking about efforts to support public safety officers, Commissioner Quinn said at the summit, “It’s your lifeline. It will save lives. It matters,” also adding that “There’s nothing more important than sustainable communication when you need it. I’m so pleased that FirstNet and AT&T have supported us in the investment that we need to make for all of our first responders.”
FirstNet’s Jason Porter and Stephen Benjamin, Chairman of the FirstNet Authority Board, the federal governing body that oversees FirstNet, also addressed attendees.
The significance of the issue of first responder mental health was recently brought to light in an April 13 opinion piece in the New Hampshire Union Leader authored by Commissioner Quinn and Dr. Courie. Together, they wrote:
“Stress can be a protective factor in the face of life-threatening events, but too many first responders go on to internalize and ignore traumatic experiences. We must be willing to have these conversations at every level in order to change this culture.”
1 Purvis, M., Fullencamp, L. & Docherty, M. (2020). Animal Assisted Therapy on Law Enforcement Mental Health: A Therapy Dog Implementation Guide. Bowling Green University.
2 Violanti, J. M., Fekedulegn, D., Hartley, T. A., Andrew, M. E., Gu, J. K., & Burchfiel, C. M. (2013). Life expectancy in police officers: a comparison with the U.S. general population.