We see first responders as our modern day heroes. They attend the most horrific of 911 calls, from murder victims, accidents, special victims, and more. They may seem invincible to us, remaining calm in high-risk situations, and saving lives as part of their everyday jobs.
However, we may not realize the impact this has on them. When we think about those who suffer from PTSD, we often think of sexual assault survivors, or war veterans, but first responders are more at risk of PTSD than we may realize.
More and more first responders are demonstrating signs of PTSD, some of which are harder to recognize and less obvious than the common symptoms. So, let’s take a look at what PTSD is, what symptoms first responders may have, and how to cope.
PTSD is the abbreviation for posttraumatic stress disorder. This is an anxiety disorder that affects those who have experienced traumatic, horrible, horrific, and frightening events within their lives. PTSD most commonly affects those who have suffered physical, sexual, or mental abuse, assault, a natural disaster, or a sudden loss of someone close to them.
Common signs are flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, guilt, and trauma. While PTSD is common for many people, and it is understandable for someone who goes through such an event to experience this mental disorder, we don’t often think about whether first responders suffer from this, too.
First responders attend traumatic scenes every single day and take it in their stride as part of the job. That doesn’t mean that it does not have a lasting impact on them, or their mental health.
PTSD: A Hidden Risk to First Responders
Recent studies have shown that first responders who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events report low levels of PTSD symptoms. The study also showed that the exposure to such trauma can be associated with brain and cognitive dysfunctions.
Studies also show that first responders frequently exposed to traumatic events pay a hidden price by suffering from low-to-moderate levels of posttraumatic stress disorder. These studies also conclude that these individuals may suffer from an impaired ability to process and react appropriately to contextual demands.
In short, repeated exposure to trauma can make it difficult to function appropriately, and they may become withdrawn in social situations and exhibit signs of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD in First Responders
The symptoms of PTSD in first responders may not be as obvious as they are in others who go through trauma, and could just be brushed off as behavioral changes. Some of the signs to look out for are:
- Refusal to speak about the event
- Losing interest in usual activities
- Feeling on edge
- Sleep disturbances
- Irritability or aggressive behavior
- Difficulty focusing
- Distancing themselves from others around them
- Intrusive memories, flashbacks, or dreams
- Increased alcohol/drug consumptions
- Self-destructive or dangerous behavior
- Reduced work performance
- Low self-esteem/self-worth
If you yourself are a first responder, or you know someone who is, and have noticed some of these changes in behavior, then it is advisable to speak to a therapist or someone you trust for support. You can also attend a local support group to share your feelings with others who are suffering from the same issues.
How Can First Responders Cope With PTSD?
If you are a first responder and you are struggling with some of the more traumatic scenes that you have attended, then you can get help for symptoms of PTSD. There are many highly effective treatment options available, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), stress management therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). If you are struggling with negative thoughts and trauma, then we urge you to reach out to us for trauma therapy.