First responders, such as paramedics, law enforcement officers and fire service members, may need treatment for PTSD given the stressful and sometimes traumatic nature of their work. If you are a first responder living with PTSD, it’s important to seek quality treatment that considers your specific needs.
If you’re experiencing mental or emotional distress in response to job-related incidents, you may be wondering if you have PTSD. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that occurs following exposure to a traumatic event, such as death, serious injury or sexual violence.
A person may develop PTSD after experiencing the event themselves or witnessing the event happen to someone else. First responders are often diagnosed with PTSD after being repeatedly exposed to traumatic events like death or child abuse.
When a person has PTSD, they may experience the following symptoms after exposure to the traumatic event:
On the physiological level, individuals who live with PTSD experience “fight or flight symptoms” like increased heart rate and elevated skin temperature when exposed to something they perceive as threatening. This means that when someone with PTSD is reminded of the event or somehow triggered, they will experience heightened physiological symptoms even though the threat of the original trauma has passed.
Police officers, paramedics, fire service members and other first responders are often exposed to violence, death or serious injury in the course of their work, which can result in PTSD symptoms.
Statistics on PTSD in first responders tell just how problematic this condition is among these professionals:
Common PTSD symptoms include flashbacks of the traumatic event, attempts to avoid memories of the event, and feelings of being detached from other people. Some symptoms that may be specific to first responders, according to research, include:
If you have experienced repeated traumatic events in the course of your work as a first responder, and you begin to notice some of the above symptoms, it may be time to reach out for PTSD treatment. Know you are not alone, and there is specialized treatment available.
Some first responders who experience PTSD symptoms may cope by using alcohol or drugs to avoid flashbacks or memories of the event. While under the influence of drugs, painful memories of a traumatic event may feel like they’ve faded away.
One study involving a sample of urban police officers found that 18.1% of male officers and 15.9% of female officers had experienced negative consequences related to alcohol abuse. In addition, 8% of officers in the study had experienced an alcohol addiction throughout the course of their lives.
A second study with female firefighters found that 40% of them had engaged in binge drinking in the month prior to the study. Among those who drank, 16.5% met the criteria for problem drinking.
What these studies suggest is that substance abuse may provide an unhealthy coping strategy for PTSD in first responders. However, drug and alcohol abuse bring their own health and social problems and can make mental health issues like PTSD worse.
First responders living with PTSD symptoms that interfere with daily functioning would benefit from seeking treatment. Given the high prevalence of PTSD and related problems among these professionals, several treatments have been developed to address their needs.
PTSD treatments that show promise for first responders include:
If you or a loved one is living with PTSD as a result of work-related trauma, FORTITUDE is here to help. Our specialty track is designed to address your experiences with licensed therapists and clinicians trained in clinical interventions for first responders.
The FORTITUDE program treats substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions like PTSD, depression and anxiety. We offer a full continuum of care, including:
Contact us today to learn more about the FORTITUDE program for first responders and get started.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.