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Top 5 things to look for in a public safety wellness app

These apps can serve as invaluable tools in fostering resilience and preventing burnout among first responders

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Public safety wellness apps help address the unique challenges faced by those in these professions.

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First responders perform critical functions in society, diligently serving to help protect their communities by maintaining public safety. However, the demanding and often traumatic nature of this work can take a toll on the physical and mental well-being of those who perform it.

As public safety agencies began realizing how important it is to support their workers’ physical and mental health, large numbers began implementing wellness initiatives. Many agencies include a wellness app as part of their overall wellness program. Created to address the unique demands of public safety professions, wellness apps represent a crucial investment in the long-term health and effectiveness of these indispensable frontline workers.

The choice of a public safety wellness app comes with significant implications for the overall welfare of their personnel. The right app can provide tailored solutions that align with the specific challenges of those in first responder careers. Whether it’s providing stress management techniques, promoting healthy lifestyle choices or offering mental health support, these apps can serve as invaluable tools in fostering resilience and preventing burnout among first responders.

The challenge of wellness

It’s no secret public safety personnel are exposed to high numbers of critical incidents over the span of their careers. A “critical incident,” according to Dr. Roger Solomon, is “Any situation beyond the realm of a person’s usual experience that overwhelms his or her sense of vulnerability and or lack of control over the situation. Historically, the burden of this exposure was borne by individual police officers, firefighters, EMTs, corrections officers and others, who were expected to “just deal with it.” Sadly, this attitude contributed to the reality that first responder suicides outnumber line-of-duty deaths in the U.S.

Failure to adequately promote wellness has other hidden impacts as well. For example, chronic stress can lead to poor decision-making, causing untold problems for first responders and public safety agencies. Overstressed, over-traumatized employees are absent more frequently and experience more job-limiting illness. They’re also at a higher risk for divorce and substance abuse, among other challenges.

Optimally, wellness programs — and accompanying wellness apps — should address two main issues:

Physical health:

  • Ensures first responders can perform their duties effectively and safely, ensuring overall operational readiness and response capabilities.
  • Reduces the risk of on-the-job injuries and long-term health complications.
  • Promotes a culture of wellness and resilience within the first responder community.

Mental health:

  • Mitigates the impact of job-related stressors and psychological strain.
  • Reduces the risk of burnout, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Improves retention rates and overall job satisfaction among first responders.
  • Addresses the psychological toll of witnessing and experiencing traumatic events, providing opportunities to process emotions in a healthy way and seek support in a stigma-free environment.
  • Provides practical support mechanisms for the families of first responders.
  • Fosters a sense of community and camaraderie, encouraging mutual support and empathy.
Download this in-depth analysis of Police1’s State of the Industry survey on officer wellbeing

Why a public safety wellness app?

A mobile app is the most convenient, accessible platform for providing wellness resources to first responders. The near-universal presence of smartphones helps ensure public safety employees can access wellness support information any time, anywhere — fitting seamlessly into the busy and unpredictable life of these critical workers.

And it’s not just about accessing important resources. Automatic updates and push notifications can gently remind users to prioritize their physical and mental well-being, emphasizing a proactive approach to self-care. Also, the interactive nature of a public safety wellness app allows for personalized experiences, catering to individual needs and preferences.

Overall, a mobile app not only offers practicality and accessibility but also empowers first responders to take control of their physical, mental and emotional health in a manner that suits their lifestyle.

What to look for

Whether your agency is hoping to promote fitness motivation, stress management tools, or simply a healthier lifestyle, choosing the right app can make all the difference. Below, we’ve compiled a checklist of essential features to consider when exploring your options. From personalized fitness plans to meditation guidance, it’s important to ensure your department’s wellness goals are fully supported by your app of choice.

1. Anonymity: One of the main reasons first responders often don’t ask for help is because they’re afraid of being judged (and/or disciplined) by higher-ups at their departments. Anyone using a public safety wellness app will want assurance that their activities — and especially the information and resources they’re accessing — won’t be tracked and held against them in personnel actions.

2. Immediate support: Above all, first responders should be able to find support resources when they need them. If someone is experiencing a personal crisis, they shouldn’t have to ask human resources or Google a crisis hotline — that information should be at their fingertips at all times. Critical support information might include:

  • Peer support (and CISD) team: A list of trained people within the department someone can talk to about their worries and challenges.
  • Family support resources: First responder families are indirectly impacted by the same on-the-job stressors experienced by their loved ones in public safety, and benefit from specialized assistance.
  • Agency chaplains: Sometimes just a listening ear, often offering spiritual guidance for those who need it.
  • Therapists: Licensed mental health professionals pre-approved by the department to provide counselling and therapy. The app should provide details on vetted therapists’ experience and specialties.

3. Assessments: Sometimes, first responders just need answers to their questions. “Am I suffering from depression?” “Am I dealing appropriately with my stress?” “Do I need to seek help for the emotions I’m experiencing right now?” Automated mental assessments, created by professionals, can help answer these questions accurately and anonymously, providing timely analysis of a user’s current mental and physical condition. Some important assessment areas include:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Sleep
  • Social isolation
  • Stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Nutrition

4. Supplementary information: Beyond helping to assess a problem, wellness apps can provide in-depth information — both explanatory and “how to” — on important topics that impact first responders’ physical and mental health, their families and careers. Some important topics to look for include:

  • Critical incidents/CISD
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Stress management
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Hypervigilance
  • Family support
  • Financial wellness
  • Leadership
  • Marriage success
  • Mindfulness
  • Career advice
  • Suicide prevention

5. Direct communication: The mobile, always-available nature of a mobile app makes it the perfect conduit for important wellness-related communications from departments to employees. Because of this, information about new programs and program offerings can be relayed to individual users in a way that ensures it will be seen quickly.

Choose wisely

The demanding and often traumatic nature of public safety work highlights the critical need for comprehensive wellness support for first responders. Public safety wellness apps help address the unique challenges faced by those in these professions, and represent a crucial investment in the long-term health and effectiveness of frontline workers. Choosing the right wellness app can be critical to both the success of an agency’s wellness program and the mental and physical health of its employees.

Ultimately, investing in the right public safety wellness app is not just about improving individual well-being and prolonging careers; it also signals an agency’s commitment to safeguarding the health and effectiveness of its first responder personnel.

NEXT: In the video below, learn about the transformative power of peer support. Discover how having someone by your side can make challenges seem 20% less daunting and the importance of proactive support from peers, colleagues, supervisors and chiefs.

Lexipol’s Content Development staff consists of current and former public safety professionals including lawyers and others who have served as chief, deputy chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, officer, deputy, jail manager, PREA auditor, prosecutor, agency counsel, civil litigator, writer, subject matter expert instructor within public safety agencies, as well as college and university adjunct professor. Learn more about Lexipol’s public safety solutions.