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Spotting Signs of PTSD in First Responders

When you think of a first responder like a firefighter, police officer, or ambulance driver, you first probably imagine their bravery and courage. As the first person on the scene of a traumatic event, first responders must provide support to victims, survivors, and all those involved in the event. However, being a first responder also means that you are exposed to dangerous events every time you go to work.

As a first responder, your career requires you to be present for some very challenging events. Essentially, you go to work and witness the worst day of someone’s life. It’s no wonder that developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is incredibly common in first responders. As one study reported, an estimated 400,000 first responders have some symptoms of PTSD. If you or someone you love is a first responder, keep reading to learn how to spot the signs of it.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that occurs in those who have lived through or witnessed a traumatic event. These events can be a multitude of things, ranging from a natural disaster to a serious car accident. Continually witnessing these events or even seeing the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event can certainly fuel PTSD.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that nearly one-third of all first responders develop a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although a very small percentage of adults in the United States has an official diagnosis of PTSD at about 3.5%, on average, 34% of first responders have an official diagnosis.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can look different for different people. Many common symptoms of it include:

  • Experiencing frequent or recurring nightmares
  • Being hypervigilant of surroundings
  • Extreme guilt
  • Losing interest in things that once brought you joy
  • Problems with anger or stress
  • Avoiding certain situations that remind you of the triggering event
  • Having flashbacks of the traumatic event

Although you may experience all or none of these symptoms, if you have PTSD, you may experience flashbacks. Having intrusive thoughts of the event or reliving it entirely are very common traits of PTSD. These flashbacks will be incredibly lifelike and can be triggered by certain things that remind you of the event. For example, if you have PTSD after responding to a car accident, hearing the screech of brakes may trigger a flashback.

Recognizing signs of PTSD in first responders

As a first responder, you are frequently present at traumatic events exactly like this. Throughout your career, exposure to such intense events on a day-to-day basis will leave a serious impression and can begin to degrade your mental and emotional health.

Since avoidance is one of the symptoms of PTSD, it should be fairly easy to recognize in first responders. If you notice someone is continually calling out of work or not volunteering for extra shifts as often as they once did, it could be because they do not feel comfortable working in an environment that left them with stressful lingering thoughts and feelings.

Additionally, you should try to do an emotional check-in with your friends and coworkers who are first responders. Those with PTSD often develop depression and anxiety as well. Below is a video portraying some of the struggles first responders have with PTSD.

How to treat PTSD

Treating PTSD may feel hopeless, but healing is possible. Explore different forms of talk therapy — a great option when handling any form of trauma. In addition to this, try finding a proper medication that works for you and your symptoms. The most important thing to remember is that it will get better.

Living through and grappling with trauma is not something you have to do alone.

Get in touch today to get started toward a healthier you.