Public-safety is no easy job to begin with, but the holidays always seem to make it tougher.

McGruff ChristmasColored lights decorate houses with Santa’s sleigh and nativity scenes in front yards.  Decorated trees can be seen through windows in the living rooms of houses across the nation.  It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. There is joy in the air and holiday cheer spreads through homes, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces… except in public-safety.  So why is it so difficult for police, fire, and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to work the holidays?  First-responders can experience something best described as the “Holiday Blues”, or extreme degrees of depression and anxiety triggered by the holiday season.

Holiday blues can infect public-safety agencies and spread like a virus.  Mental health professionals have their own theories about what causes the holiday blues, such as poor eating/sleeping habits, hectic scheduling, and lack of physical exercise.  But these factors can cause holiday blues for any ordinary person, so there must be a better explanation for why the blues can be so pervasive in the public-safety community.

Public-safety knows no holidays.  First-responders mount up to serve their communities 24/7/365.  Christmas?  New Year’s?  Just two more days on the calendar in public-safety.  Violent crimes, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and general misfortunes do not take breaks on holidays.  Emergency dispatchers still answer calls on Christmas.  Police officers, firefighters, and EMT’s still respond.  And therein lies the problem.

Christmas and New Year’s should be times of joyous celebration with family and loved ones.  People are kinder, more generous, more patient, more grateful, and more cheerful.  That is what makes the holiday season so beautiful.  It briefly transforms people as they find peace from the busyness of life.  Dispatchers answer countless calls, but there is something different about answering a call from a homeless man on Christmas calling simply because he has no one else to talk to.  Police officers respond to vehicle burglaries daily, but the family minivan that gets burglarized days before Christmas and has all the kids’ presents stolen is somehow different.  The firefighters who respond to a structure fire of a house fully engulfed and find a family standing at the curb crying in disbelief… the EMT’s who frantically perform CPR on a baby who has stopped breathing, but to no avail… first-responders handle these incidents every day, but they feel different during the holiday season.

At a time of year when people should be happy, loving, and grateful, unspeakable acts of violence and tragedy still occur.  This sociological dichotomy is never stronger than during the holiday season.  As a result, feelings of helplessness and guilt are often more intense for first-responders during the holidays.  Sadness is still resonating from the last call when first-responders are needed for another one, and the sadness accumulates.  It is exasperated by thoughts like, “terrible bad things like this should not happen during this time of year”, thus creating deeper feelings of irritability and depression.

And yet, there is no easy way for first-responders to defeat the holiday blues because society desperately needs them to respond to emergencies, even on days like Christmas.  However, society itself can help its first-responders by reminding them they are appreciated, especially during the holiday season.  Remember this Christmas, as you are sitting around your dining room table surrounded by family and loved ones, eating the full-course meal, rooting for your favorite sports team, preparing for gift exchange that first-responders are working and ready in the event there is an emergency at your home.  Let us show them more compassion and appreciation, for their job alone is difficult enough this holiday season, and just maybe, we can help them fight the blues.  Merry Christmas first-responders.  May God bless you all beyond deserving for sacrificing your holiday season and choosing a life of service.