Sutton Speaks on Mental Health to National Audience

Misty Sutton
Misty Sutton

Arkansas Tech University student Misty Sutton stood before the 70th annual conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) with a message for her fellow disaster response practitioners.

“Disaster response is really hard,” said Sutton, who spoke at a plenary session at the conference in Savannah, Ga., during November 2022. “We work 12-to-24 hour days in the midst of a disaster response, so I wanted to share the finding that self-care is not only possible, but vital. Community members need to remember that emergency responders are human. They have families. They need sleep, and they need to eat. They cannot sustain emergency response without those vital self-care practices. Long-lasting self-sacrifice is unsustainable, and there are things we need to do and can do to take care of ourselves.”

Sutton is a senior emergency management and psychology major at ATU. A resident of Centerton, she became involved with American Red Cross in 2020 and joined its staff as a full-time disaster program specialist for the Missouri-Arkansas region in August 2021. She was chosen as a recipient of the 2021 One Red Cross Award in recognition of her service.

When Sutton was tasked with performing a research project in one of her behavioral science classes at ATU, she elected to make it an interdisciplinary study by examining how disaster responders process the stress that is an innate aspect of their profession. The resulting paper was the basis for her presentation at the IAEM conference.

“There is this expectation among responders as well as within the community during a disaster response that responders are heroes and there’s an expectation they should sacrifice themselves for others,” said Sutton. “I explored about 25 different articles, and what I found across those was how to implement self-care practices in the disaster field. I also included information about my own experiences responding to disasters.

“Going into it, especially as a responder myself, it was interesting to find that my concerns in terms of a lack of self-care in disaster response and the importance of mental health in disaster response were shared by others,” continued Sutton. “That was incredibly reassuring to me and it led to my desire to present at the International Association of Emergency Managers conference. I wanted responders to know they are not alone in these feelings.”

Sutton said that proactively addressing the mental health issues present within the emergency management field is essential to the future of the profession. She cited increases in alcoholism, divorce and suicide among emergency managers as evidence of the stress and strain on professionals working in the field.

“The Journal of Emergency Management recently published a survey whereby a systemic exit of emergency managers from the field was observed,” said Sutton. “People are tired and burned out. I want to see emergency managers understand the importance of dispelling the expectation of altruism that comes with disaster response. It’s not healthy, and it’s not sustainable. We have to protect the mental health of disaster and emergency responders. It is not only important, but necessary to the survival of the emergency management field.”

As she prepares to graduate from Arkansas Tech in May 2023, Sutton believes the educational and professional experiences she has gained have prepared her for her future.

“I love Arkansas Tech because it’s a very student-focused university,” said Sutton. “I love my instructors. I love Dr. (Sandy) Smith. She is such a champion for students and a champion for not just the profession of emergency management, but the development of emergency management as a profession so it can continue to grow. As a student, I feel like I’ve been wildly supported in my academic role and my professional role.”

Arkansas Tech offers a Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management as well as a Master of Science degree in emergency management and homeland security. In 2005, ATU became the first institution of higher learning to have its degree programs accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Emergency Management Education.

Learn more about the study of emergency management at ATU by visiting