Tackling Call Center Mental Health
The mental health challenges faced by first responders are well known. But all too often, the conversation neglects those responders who work behind the scenes instead of on the front lines. This includes 9-1-1 dispatchers, whose call center work comes with unique stressors and exposure to both first- and second-hand trauma on a daily basis.
Call center employees play a pivotal role in community safety and crime response. While there is growing recognition of call center mental health challenges (including Arizona House Bill 2717, which was recently passed to provide free trauma therapy for dispatchers in the state), we still have a long way to go in addressing 9-1-1 dispatcher stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorder.
Here’s what to know about the stressors that call center employees face – and the strategies that may provide some much-needed relief in and outside of the office.
What Causes 9-1-1 Dispatcher Stress?
To understand the root causes of dispatcher anxiety and other mental health issues, you need to understand the general landscape of call center work.
Collectively, 9-1-1 dispatchers respond to more than 240 million calls every year. Their job is an essential one: communicate with civilians during stressful and/or dangerous situations, then relay that information to other emergency service providers. Along the way, dispatchers must calmly and efficiently process what’s happening, often without any of the closure that comes with seeing how a situation ends.
It’s a high-stress, high-pressure job, and one that is often coupled with additional challenges such as understaffed offices, long hours, and poor job satisfaction. As a result, call center employees may face a wide range of mental health challenges in both the short- and long-term, including:
- Substance use disorder
- Fatigue and burnout
- Emotional conflict and dissonance
Many dispatchers are also at risk of co-occurring disorders due to the mental and emotional toll of the job. Ultimately, as many as 18-24% of call center employees report symptoms of PTSD, and many more may experience chronic stress related to their position.
Obviously, there is no way to eliminate the challenges that impact call center mental health completely. However, many dispatchers lack access to even the most basic of mental health resources. This includes access to specialists with a deep understanding of the extraordinary stress of the job, as well as its larger effects on mental well-being.
Strategies for Better Addressing Call Center Mental Health
Arizona’s new bill is an important step forward in addressing 9-1-1 dispatcher stress. By offering free trauma therapy to dispatchers, the state helps eliminate the stigma of care and makes it more likely that call center employees will get the help they need.
Aside from providing dispatchers with access to counseling services, call centers can also help mitigate mental health problems in other key ways:
- Awareness training – Training for staff and management on stress management and emotional resilience
- Workload management – Implementing regular breaks and ensuring that offices are properly staffed
- Reduced stigma – Creating a supportive and open work environment where employees are encouraged to be open about mental health struggles
- Improved work culture – Encouraging peer support and team bonding
As with other first responders, call center employees need support at multiple levels in order to become educated on the mental health issues they face and what resources are available to them. Call centers themselves have a key role to play in making sure this happens, as do governments at the state and local levels.
Support for Dispatchers and Other Emergency Service Providers
Positive change is possible through proactive measures. This includes minimizing undue stress on dispatchers wherever possible and providing support services that adequately meet their needs in times of crisis.
At Synergy Health Programs, we’ve seen firsthand what the stress of working in a 9-1-1 call center can result in. Our First Responder Recovery Program is designed to offer qualified support to dispatchers and others involved in civilian safety, with treatment services for PTSD, depression, substance use disorder, and co-occurring disorders. The program also includes support services for dispatch family members, plus medication-assisted treatment, aftercare planning, and more.
To learn more about our mental health services for 9-1-1 dispatchers, please contact us today.