Peer Support in the times of Greek Mythology 

Often when I am speaking about first responder mental health I like to close with Greek Mythology.  It usually results in a sigh from the audience as everyone recalls the painful classroom experience from high school.  Even now some of you have decided this topic isn’t for you, but indulge me for a moment.

Everyone probably recalls the myth of the Greek warrior Achilles and the Trojan War.  What you may not know is the story of Ajax, who was Achilles right hand and a warrior just as revered.  Ajax returned home from battle after years of war feeling abandoned by his superiors and slighted of the reward he believed he earned.  As a result he became so enraged he started plotting revenge but soon night falls and Ajax goes to sleep.  During the night Ajax is awakened believing he is under enemy attack so he runs to the field and slaughters them before returning to his tent to sleep.  When Ajax awakens the following morning and realizes what he has he is ashamed because what he actually slaughtered was his cattle.  

The story attributes this trickery to the Goddess Athena intervening.  Today we would recognize this as night terrors and hallucinations associated with operational stress injuries.  Ajax returns to his tent and is contemplating suicide.  Ajax’s wife sees this and reaches out to his friends asking for help stating;

The words of friends can often cure a man in his condition.

“His frenzy is gone.  Just like a southerly wind that spins about with all the bright lightning and then dies down.  The fury is gone from him and his mind is well but now he’s got a new sickness in his soul…From his words and his deep grief, it looks obvious to me that he’s thinking of doing some great harm to himself.  But that’s why I’m out here, my friends. To ask you to go inside and help him in any way you can. The words of friends can often cure a man in his condition.”

This was written over 2500 years ago, and even then they knew how powerful peer support can be.  I have benefited from it, and I know many other first responders who feel the same way.  I encourage you to find a team near you, and if you can’t build one.  Peer support programs can save careers, families, and lives.