When most people think of PTSD, they usually imagine Army veterans returning from close-quarters combat or refugees fleeing warzones.
But not all trauma is as blatant as war.
Domestically, first responders face intense trauma on a regular basis.
The truth is:
PTSD in first responders is remarkably common but unfortunately, it's not discussed nearly as often.
The recent Vegas shooting forced this discussion into the forefront of public discourse – not only for the survivors, but also PTSD treatment for first responders.
Intense stigma still exists within the first responder community which makes it even more difficult for those suffering to find help.
But help is available and, one day, you can help others going through the same trauma.
PTSD in Emergency Responders after the Vegas Shooting
Over the past few decades, first responders have increased their reaction times and efficacy for handling incidents of terrorism and mass violence.
Most of these events take place in a public space with plenty of open areas.
However, the Vegas shooting was different. The shooter chose the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel as his location which made it particularly difficult for first responders to intervene.
It took just 12 minutes for SWAT teams and officers to reach the shooter's hotel floor, but entering the room was another story: 75 minutes passed between the first shot and entering the hotel room.
Although the shooter only opened fire for 10 minutes, that's 75 minutes of fear, uncertainty, and potential violence.
The survivors certainly have a long road of recovery ahead of them – but what about PTSD among first responders?
What about the paramedics, SWAT teams, and people who jumped into action to save others?
It Appears Counseling for First Responders is Severely Lacking
Although first responder tactical training continues to improve, it doesn't seem as though first responder PTSD support and general counseling is keeping up.
According to a survey from the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, first responders employed in emergency medical services (EMS) have a suicide rate of 6.6% and suicide contemplation rate of 37% – that's 10 times the national average.
The survey indicated that over half of EMS workers consider employee assistance programs (EAP) and critical incident stress management (CISM) programs to be either “very helpful” or “extremely” helpful for managing stress.
However, survey respondents also said therapists from these programs are not specifically trained in PTSD treatment for first responders. It also suggests that nearly half of EMS workers believe these programs require significant improvement with it comes to PTSD treatment for first responders.
These numbers only reflect workers in the EMS industry: high-quality mental health, suicide, and counseling statistics for fire fighters, police, and other first responders are hard to come by.
PTSD in First Responders: Signs and Symptoms You Need to Know
It's incredibly important to understand the signs and symptoms of PTSD in first responders – particularly if you or a loved one are employed in one of these fields.
No trauma is the same.
PTSD symptoms in first responders look a lot different than PTSD symptoms in sexual assault survivors.
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
First responders should also look out for one another and keep an eye on their coworkers.
If you're a first responder, you understand the job better than an outsider.
Monitor your coworkers for any behavioral changes – don't write it off and tell them to suck it up. Be supportive and reassuring: encourage coworkers to participate in counseling for first responders.
How to Find First Responder PTSD Support
Unfortunately, mental health stigma still exists in the United States. As a result, many people do not seek PTSD support because they fear judgement and lack of acceptance from others.
Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than in the first responder community.
If you, a loved one, or a coworker are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it's important to know how and where to get help.
Left unchecked, symptoms often carry-on for years and manifest into other problems such as substance use disorder, family problems, medical issues, and even violent mood swings.
- 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 about getting help is speaking up for the first time.
Once you do, you'll be glad you did.
Plus, down the road, you'll be able to help other first responders facing PTSD.
PTSD Treatment for First Responders at Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital in Las Vegas
We know every person and every situation are unique.
That's why we develop personalized first responder PTSD support and treatment plans which may include medication monitoring, building coping skills, and various therapies.
We are available 24/7. Call 877-663-7976. Hablamos español.