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First Responder PTSD Symptoms and Treatment Programs

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PTSD in First Responders

When most people think of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they usually imagine army veterans returning from combat or refugees fleeing war zones. However, PTSD-causing trauma can come from a variety of sources, and another group of people that frequently deals with trauma and PTSD is first responders. 

PTSD among first responders is remarkably common. Unfortunately, people do not discuss PTSD among first responders as frequently as they discuss PTSD among veterans. Intense stigma surrounding PTSD exists within first responder communities, which makes finding help difficult for first responders in need. However, support is available for first responders. Learn more about PTSD among first responders and modern treatment options in the article below.

PTSD in Emergency Responders

PTSD in Emergency Responders after the Vegas Shooting

In recent years, an increasing number of first responders have experienced incidents of terrorism and mass violence. For example, in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, there were over 1,000 first responders from every Southern Nevada agency onsite and at surrounding trauma departments. Some first responders even attended the concert on their day off with friends and family. After the shooting, these individuals began triaging and saving lives immediately.

Desert Parkway started receiving dozens of inquiries from first responder partners throughout the Las Vegas Valley in the days and weeks following October 1st. This time period is when we realized the escalating mental health crisis that our community was facing and began focusing resources on supporting first responders. We developed a specialized PTSD rehab program, which resulted in our Hope for Heroes program. The program quickly expanded to include active duty members of the military, veterans, and members of military families.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we identified the need to expand the Hope for Heroes admissions criteria to include frontline healthcare workers who were experiencing crippling stress and anxiety. Hope for Heroes is the only PTSD rehab program in the Southern Nevada region that exclusively serves first responders. First responders work tirelessly and dedicate their lives to supporting our community, and the goal of our program is to provide a resource for those individuals.

Desert Parkway is committed to responding to the needs of our community by continuing to enhance our program with innovative therapeutic methods. These methods include equine therapy, EMDR, seeking-safety programs, cognitive processing therapy, and trauma recovery yoga. We also provide first responders with a dedicated workout facility with state-of-the-art equipment.

Counseling for First Responders is Severely Lacking

Limited Counseling Resources for First Responders

Many first responders do not have access to adequate mental health services. These limited services include general mental health counseling and PTSD-specific treatment programs.

According to a survey from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, first responders in emergency medical services (EMS) have a suicide rate of 6.6% and a suicide contemplation rate of 37%. These numbers are approximately ten times greater than numbers for the general population. Additionally, the survey finds that mental health programs do benefit first responders. The survey indicates that over half of EMS workers consider critical incident stress management (CISM) programs to be either “very helpful” or “extremely” helpful for managing stress.

However, survey respondents also said that therapists from CISM programs do not have training in providing PTSD treatment to first responders. The survey also suggests that nearly half of all EMS workers believe these programs require significant improvement. While the survey is for EMS first responders, other first responders, including firefighters and police officers, also deal with limited access to mental health programs.

Symptoms of PTSD in First Responders

PTSD in First Responders: Signs and Symptoms You Need to Know

It is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD among first responders. This reality is particularly the case if you or a loved one is a first responder. A key point is that the signs and symptoms of PTSD can be very different among individuals. For example, PTSD symptoms among first responders are often different from PTSD symptoms among sexual assault survivors. PTSD symptoms can vary significantly among first responders, too. No two experiences of trauma are the same, and people process trauma differently.

These symptoms below are specific to PTSD among first responders.

  • Intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks of a specific incident
  • Refusing to talk about a traumatic event
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Avoiding places where a traumatic event occurred
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or low self-worth
  • Distancing themselves from others
  • Feeling tense or on-edge all the time
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Paranoia or overwhelming fear
  • Irritability or aggressive outbursts
  • Inability to focus
  • Reduced work performance or missed days
  • Increased alcohol or drug consumption
  • Unreasonable reactions to average situations
  • Risky, dangerous, or self-destructive behavior

If you are a first responder, you understand the job better than an outsider. You also understand the impact that the job can have on a person’s mental health. First responders must look out for one another and check in with their coworkers. First responders can monitor their coworkers for any behavioral changes and offer support to those who may need help. Support and encouragement to seek treatment can go a long way.

First Responder PTSD Support

How to Find First Responder PTSD Support

Unfortunately, stigma surrounding mental health issues and treatment still exists in the United States. As a result, many people do not seek PTSD support because they fear judgment and a lack of acceptance from others. This occurrence is common among first responders. If you or a coworker experiences any of the above symptoms, it is important to know how and where to get help. If a first responder does not receive treatment for his PTSD, symptoms often worsen and lead to other problems. These additional issues may include substance abuse and difficulties with relationships.

The list below includes steps that you or a loved one who has PTSD can take:

  • Find a therapist or counselor with training in PTSD or background as a first responder.
  • Look for first responder PTSD support groups in your area. Check the First Responder Support Network.
  • Consider cognitive behavioral therapy to manage your thought process and develop coping skills.
  • Take a brief leave of absence for a recovery period at an inpatient or intensive outpatient mental health facility.
  • Participate in substance use support groups.
  • Reach out and talk to others going through the same situation.

The hardest part of getting help is reaching out for the first time. Once first responders do reach out for help, they are typically glad that they did. Also, first responders who are familiar with available PTSD treatment options can better help other first responders who have PTSD.

PTSD Treatment for First Responders in Las Vegas, NV

Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare in Las Vegas offers comprehensive and evidence-based treatment for first responders. We offer inpatient treatment programs and outpatient PTSD programs.

At Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we understand the unique behavioral health needs of first responders who have PTSD. We offer personalized first responder support programs and treatment plans for PTSD. Treatment plans may include medication monitoring, coping-skills development sessions, and evidence-based therapies.

If you or a loved one is a first responder who needs PTSD treatment, do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (877) 663-7976.

We are available 24/7. Hablamos español.