Trauma or PTSD with First Responders
First responders such as police officers, fire department workers, EMT’s, paramedics, medical personnel, and even social workers are often subjected to emotionally unsettling experiences that can introduce a level of trauma that eventually becomes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The effects of these incidents are often ignored and dismissed and can lead to symptoms such as severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares. Some individuals manage to cope with these experiences on a short term basis but as the condition remains undiagnosed, the symptoms of PTSD are likely to worsen. Sometimes individuals develop problematic coping mechanisms such as gambling, drug/alcohol use or internet addiction(s).
First responders are frequently exposed to highly stressful events in the course of their routine duties. Some of the specific situations that increase one’s vulnerability to traumatic stress include:
- Lack of control over the volume of emergency calls;
- The ongoing routine of responding to calls regardless of how disturbing or traumatic the previous call may have been;
- Repetition of experiences within the service for a long time (stress is cumulative);
- Experiencing unrelenting situations and feelings of helplessness due to overwhelming demands, these can include situations such as prolonged or failed rescue;
- Grief through the loss of partner being killed or seriously injured in the line of duty; suicide of a peer;
- Experiencing the death of a child in the line of duty;
- Responding to a call for a victim who is known to the responder;
- Working without the support of administration, or being questioned on one’s actions in an investigation.
People may be able to recover from short term stress known as Acute Stress Disorder through the utilization of their own coping mechanisms along with the support of friends and family. Significant distress that lasts longer than three months indicates chronic PTSD and should be attended to. Cases of symptoms lasting longer than six months are classified as delayed onset PTSD and require immediate attention.