|First responders can only handle so much. Risking your life, dealing with troubled individuals, and all the other crazy scenarios you see on the news daily. You carry those events with you, and no amount of mental preparedness or training can prepare you for the aftermath of a bad day on the job. That’s why post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is so prevalent among our first responders.|
The traumas you face as first responders is stigmatized because you need to be in control of situations and yourself at all times. You must never show weakness. This trauma grows inside you, festering, leading to depression, anxiety, and potentially even suicide.
Let’s look at what PTSD is, its common causes among first responders, and how you can overcome it.
What is PTSD, and What Are the Common Causes?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder present in people who have witnessed traumatic events. Anything from assault to natural disasters to a severe injury can cause PTSD in a person.
For first responders, highly disturbing calls, life-threatening events, or experiencing something on duty by proxy can lead to PTSD. The more traumatic moments witnessed, the more pervasive it becomes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, first responders are at a high-risk for PTSD. This shouldn’t be surprising based on what they see and deal with on duty.
From police officers to firefighters to paramedics, dispatchers, EMS and more, first responders’ daily lives are filled with stress on levels the public can’t imagine.
What Happens When a First Responder Develops PTSD?
When a first responder develops PTSD, it can and often causes issues on the job. PTSD can affect their ability to process stress appropriately in moments when they can’t afford to be at their best. If they have a mental, emotional, or physical response to a scene, they may not perform their duties appropriately.
This could lead to split-second decisions that impact a situation going from good to bad. In the end, it could put lives in jeopardy or put their own life in danger.
First responders may experience PTSD symptoms that manifest in the following ways:
- Avoidant Behaviors: Avoiding similar situations that led to the trauma is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. Avoiding the people involved can lead to short-term relief, too.
- Hyper-arousal: This symptom manifests in people differently. It can include concentration problems, insomnia, angry outbursts, and irritability. The psychological distress of PTSD sometimes comes out in physical symptoms.
- Intrusion: Intrusive memories are often the most debilitating symptom of PTSD. Memories of past events flood the consciousness, and vivid flashbacks can happen when awake as well as in nightmares and night terrors during sleep. These memories are so realistic the body responds as if it’s experiencing the trauma all over again in real-time.
Why Do First Responders Keep PTSD to Themselves?
Imagine having someone’s life in your hands. You’re frozen. You can’t react to a situation. Those critical moments could mean the difference between life and death. This is what first responders deal with every day. Every call could be their last, or it could be someone else’s last. It could be life-changing for everyone involved.
When first responders feel they can’t control themselves or a situation, they’re admitting that they may not have what it takes to do the job anymore. By avoiding the PTSD, pretending nothing is wrong, or flat-out lying about it, they’re living in a world where they still have control.
Anything that impacts a first responder’s resilience under pressure may make them feel isolated and weak. Often, they won’t seek treatment for their PTSD or will turn to substance abuse to cope. Other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, may start to get worse.
Some first responders worry about being away from the job. They worry about the cost of treatment, especially if they need long-term psychiatric care, and they don’t want word to get out that they’re in therapy.
This self-reliance culture and habit of pushing oneself to the limit in stressful situations make them feel as if they could be fired for admitting they need to seek help because of their occupation.
The Truth About Seeking Help for PTSD
PTSD is a very real mental health condition that can impact anyone no matter what they do for a living or walk of life they come from.
First responders deal with exposure to life-changing events more often than anybody. It should be no surprise that they may develop PTSD, mental health conditions, drug addiction, and alcohol dependence when coping with it. By leveraging psychiatric professionals, peer support, and employee assistance programs, first responders can overcome PTSD and other mental illness conditions that come with it.