PTSD- The basics for First Responders

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It seems that PTSD is a hot topic among First Responders these days. From talking about it, to training courses and mentions in the news. But it can be hard to talk about something that you dont fully understand.

So First Responders, their spouses and their family need to get a basic understand of what PTSD is, and what it is not. Sometimes you just want a straight answer!

*** Please note- this is not medical advice, nor to I pretend to know everything about PTSD, mental health, or the education that medical professionals have. This is my personal experience with my family and the mental health professionals we have talked to over the years. I strongly encourage you to get help if you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, suicidal thoughts, or you need help. For immediate issues, call 911.

Why do you need to Know about PTSD?

That’s the most important question- because if you don’t find this information valuable, then it won’t matter to you!

So why do you need to know about PTSD?

PTSD is something that can effect you, your family or people that you encounter as a result of a traumatic event.

You need to know about PTSD because it can have an impact on your life- either indirectly or directly. Especially if you are a first responder or connected to one.

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But you need to know that not everyone will experience PTSD

While the numbers are pretty high, not everyone experiences PTSD. Sometimes everyday stressors can seem like a lot to handle, but they aren’t impacting how you function day to day.

Other times, PTSD can sneak up on you, and you suppress it because you have too much going on. If you experience symptoms that last longer than a month it’s time to talk to a professional .

What’s the definition of PTSD

The American Psychatric Association defines PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

PTSD can occur in all people, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. View the article here.

Quick Stats according to this study

-33% of EMT’s and Paramedics will experience PTSD

-Females are more likely than males to have PTSD

-Moreover, this study found that PTSD was also the strongest predictor of health-related problems— stronger than depression, anxiety or job strain.

-PTSD among these first responders is associated with biomarkers that indicate neuroendocrine changes (e.g. cortisol, blood pressure) that may contribute to disability.

Many ways that PTSD can present itself

PTSD can look like a lot of different things, and it can also look different for Firefighters, Police Officers and Dispatchers.

They can have different thoughts associated with PTSD based on what they experienced and how often it’s happened.

So lets cover some general things that PTSD can present itself as for many of the first responders.

For one, PTSD can be a result of HEARING about a trauma.

 It can also occur as a result of repeated exposure to horrible details of trauma such as police officers exposed to details of child abuse cases. (See source here)

For Two, it can take some time to present itself. This is called Delayed Onset PTSD- it’s why many believe there shouldn’t be a reporting time limit.

For three, gender does play a role. About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%). Learn more about women, trauma and PTSD.

Fourth, it can be something that is manageable, or something that becomes a severe disability. This is entirely a case by case basis that will require diagnosis to determine.

PTSD is NOT this

PTSD is not something to be ashamed about. Those with PTSD have been through a lot. It’s literally in the title- they have experienced something traumatic.

But It is not something that is just going to go away on its own either.

Having PTSD is a very real thing for many people, it can stem from childhood trauma, or a very stressful event. You can even get it from secondary sources (think 9/11- we all have some awareness of that day, some worse than others).

Many people think that having PTSD is a weakness, a flaw, and something that they should keep locked up and hidden away.

But PTSD can cause this

Those that have PTSD are at a higher risk of depression.

And being depressed can cause higher risks of Suicide.

And a large number of first responders take their life every year.

See the connection here?

The problems aren’t always concrete- those with PTSD won’t always have depression, and those with depression won’t always have PTSD.

BUT we do know that we need to be aware of the connections so we can work on preventative care, especially so that we can save our First Responder Family. You can read more about the PTSD and Depression connection.

Get some Help

I would encourage you to talk to someone- you can speak to your employment assistance program at work.

You can find resources online, most importantly Like the national suicide prevention hotline.

You should also consider talking to someone about PTSD, please check out this FREE app for managing PTSD.

Hotline for FIRE/EMS (from the website- they are 24/7 and first responders OR their family can call about issues like alcohol or drug addiction, depression, suicide prevention, stress or anxiety, critical incidents, PTSD, stress caused by financial management issues or legal problems, relationship issues, work-related concerns, or psychological issues)

First Responder Crisis Support Line

I also have a resource with many other helpful sites for Firefighter Mental Health (As well as occupational health etc)

Let’s Recap

PTSD can happen to anyone- but it does tend to compound with First Responders, and personal and work life can blend together.

You want to get help for PTSD, it doesn’t have to rule your life or the lives of your loved ones.

What Firefighter Wives need to know about PTSD

What to do when your Firefighter doesn’t want to talk about it


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