The life of a first responder can be rewarding. Each day can offer an opportunity to prevent tragedies and save lives. While everyone else is running away from the scene of a crisis, the first responders are running toward the action. A career like this is fulfilling but also, it has more than a few challenges.
You’re making life-and-death decisions while humans suffer right in front of your eyes. All the while, your own safety is perpetually at risk. Needless to say, first responders can and do struggle with trauma and sometimes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How can the helpers get the help they need and deserve?
Is PTSD Common in First Responders?
The short answer is yes. But here are some statistics to provide more context:
- More than 80 percent of first responders endure traumatic events on the job.
- About one-third of late enforcement offices and one-quarter of firefights are currently being treated for PTSD.
- First responders develop mental health problems at a rate 10 percent higher than the general population.
- Since 2020, police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Since so many of these workers will stoically not complain, how do we know when they’re struggling?
Possible Signs of PTSD in First Responders
It’s one thing to be humble but when a first responder is always downplaying their contribution, it might be a red flag. When they focus more on what they didn’t do, it could be that the job has gotten to them. Here are some other common signs to watch for:
- Engaging in risky, self-destructive behaviors — including self-medication through substance abuse
- Issues with remembering traumatic events they’ve endured
- Re-living traumatic events via intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, or instantly replaying the episodes in the conversations
- Feeling emotionally numb and dissociated
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty maintaining a normal sleep pattern
- Refusing to ask for or accept offers of help
- Focusing on morbid topics related to death or even suicide
The presence of these behaviors may not automatically confirm the presence of trauma. However, these are clear signals that the first responder needs support as soon as possible.
Can First Responders Prevent PTSD?
There are preventative, progressive steps that can be taken, e.g.
- Be more self-aware when it comes to knowing your limits and setting boundaries
- Create a work environment that is open and supportive
- Reject the stigma that heroes never ask for help
- Use your time off to have positive experiences with friends and family
- Prioritize self-care on a daily basis
How First Responders Can Get Help for PTSD
Just as someone calls a first responder to attend to a particular problem, they must find an experienced, trauma-informed therapist when crisis strikes them. From there, your treatment will involve:
- Accepting the need to be un-stuck and learning how to do that
- Reducing feelings can keep you stuck, including anxiety, guilt, and shame
- Cultivating the skills and coping mechanisms you need to manage such a challenging career
- Developing ways to ground yourself when faced with a potentially traumatic event
- Keeping your emotions and thoughts well-regulated
- Healing both your mind and body as you move toward recovery
Under the guidance of the right therapist, you can effectively combine the self-help skills and therapeutic outcomes listed above.
Let’s Connect and Talk Soon
The world needs first responders. First responders need support. If you reach out to set up an appointment for trauma therapy, we can both hold up our end of that essential bargain. Your sessions are where you can grow to become more comfortable discussing your needs and asking for help. As a result, we all benefit.