U of M app helping first responders across US manage compassion fatigue

A University of Minnesota app is now helping first responders in all 50 states manage the emotional and physical toll their work can taken on them.

The First Responder Toolkit, which was created by College of Education and Human Development researchers in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health, uses an interactive platform to help first responders. The free app works to help prevent, mitigate and promote recovery from compassion fatigue.

The university said compassion fatigue can lead to greater risks of missing important cues or questions, working ineffectively in teams, conducting poor documentation and making medical errors.

"The First Responder Toolkit’s widespread usage demonstrates the pressing need among responders of all types for resources to help manage their personal and professional well-being through multiple forms of self-monitoring and self-care," said Tai Mendenhall, Ph.D., associate professor of family social science and principal investigator on the research team behind the app. "Generally, people in the ‘helping professions’ — mental health providers, biomedical providers, EMTs, etc. — are very good at helping other people. But we are not very good at taking care of ourselves."

A 2016 survey by the National EMS Management Association found a significant mental health and wellness problem among people working in emergency medical services, the university said.

"Across Minnesota, overworked and overwhelmed responders are hearing the stories of anger, frustration, grief and loss from those they serve—which puts them at a high risk for compassion fatigue," said Nancy Carlson, behavioral health program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. "Compassion fatigue negatively impacts not only the mental and emotional health of our responders, but also their professional functioning and ability to continue to protect the health and safety of Minnesota residents."

The U of M said the toolkit will be further developed in the future to include enhanced features to fit individuals’ specific needs.