How Bouvé College is helping support first responder mental health

By: Carmen Sceppa, MD, PhD, FGSA | Dean, Bouvé College of Health Sciences 

Over the past few years, more and more people have begun prioritizing their mental health. From emotional to psychological to social health, mental health impacts every aspect of one’s life.  

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of building a culture of acceptance and resilience and making mental health the center of our conversations. First responders and those working on the frontlines in healthcare were especially impacted throughout the pandemic with studies finding all healthcare workers experiencing burnout. As first responders saw an increase in calls during the pandemic and an increase in social unrest including gun violence, it became more important than ever to work protectively and proactively to support first responders and give them the tools needed to help themselves and each other.  

With the expertise of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ Department of Applied Psychology, the Continuing Education Center, and Northeastern University Seattle, our leaders worked to create a unique program to support first responders’ mental health and well-being.  

The time was spring 2020 when the start of the pandemic sparked multiple conversations and ideas in Bouvé about how to support Northeastern staff during these disorienting times. In line with our principle of offering education and training that is informed by contextual situations and needs, teams proposed ideas that were grounded in this context and focused on the stress that it was causing first responders. Dr. Laura Dudley has been involved in Bouvé initiatives to support the Bouvé community and health professionals working on the frontlines of the pandemic response. It was natural for her to then be a part of the first responder mental health initiative between Bouvé and Seattle.  

She explains the importance of understanding health as both physical and mental. “You can’t talk about one without the other,” Dudley says.  

Dudley and colleagues developed a workshop focused on providing an overview of some common mental health issues, highlighting some myths and misconceptions regarding mental health. It emphasized the importance of getting help and what help might look like, and it also opened a discussion around some of the barriers to getting treatment and with a special emphasis on reducing stigma. The workshop offered a great opportunity to combine Bouvé’s experience, compassionate experts, and interdisciplinary nature to educate and help better our communities, a key piece of the Bouvé mission. 

This three-part workshop series provide participants with the opportunity to learn more about the unique factors that impact behavioral health for frontline responders, and a set of tools and strategies to manage and grow from the challenges inherent in the work. 

>> Bouvé First Responder Resilience and Behavioral Health workshop series returns 

The positive responses we received reinforced our belief that there was a need for a workshop like this. Many frontline responders don’t have access to such training and many departments do not know where to start. Our three-part workshop series provides participants the opportunity to learn more about the unique factors that impact behavioral health for responders, and a set of tools and strategies to manage and grow from the challenges inherent in the work.   

Here is the upcoming workshop information:   

  • Workshop 1 (July 12): Managing long-term exposures to stress and trauma at work: common neurological and physical experiences, and how those experiences influence our interpersonal communication styles and strategies. 
  • Workshop 2 (July 19): Behavioral Health Support for yourself and others when crisis happens: How to identify and effectively address signs of Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Moral Injury and engage in effective workplace-appropriate crisis intervention. 
  • Workshop 3 (July 26): Anticipate, Plan, Deter: Building a personal coping plan that works, that you will actually use, and how to engage in active and practical resilience-building without doing yoga or starting a journal (unless you want to). 

We’re proud to be able to offer this type of high-quality training and hope to continue expanding it across Northeastern’s global network. 


This is the third post in our blog series by Bouvé College Dean Carmen Sceppa, MD, PhD, FGSA. Stay tuned for more.