First Responders And PTSD: Causes And Coping

By Joseph Hunter, M.A.

Many people can go their whole lives without witnessing a traumatic event.  However, this can be almost a daily occurrence for first responders.  Because of their work, they can develop post-traumatic stress disorder as it can occur after they experience a scary, shocking or dangerous event.  Because first responders are exposed to disturbing situations constantly due to their job, they are twice as likely to experience PTSD.

First responders have several risk factors for developing PTSD just because of the nature of their work. These include:

  • Having a job that exposes them to traumatic events
  • Experiencing intense trauma
  • Having feelings of helplessness or fear
  • Seeing people get killed or hurt

There are four main symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Re-experiencing:  This includes re-living the event and having flashbacks. Certain triggers can also cause someone to relive the tragedy.
  2. Avoidance:  This entails avoiding places that remind them of the event. The sufferer may also avoid talking or thinking about the occurrence.
  3. Hyperarousal:  This is the feeling of being constantly on edge. It can also mean someone will have a hard time sleeping and difficulty concentrating.
  4. Negative thoughts and beliefs:  This can include feeling distant from other people and staying away from relationships.  The sufferer may also feel the world is dangerous and no one can be trusted.

While PTSD alone can be a difficult disorder to overcome, it can also increase the chance of developing other health problems.  Depression and anxiety can stem from PTSD along with suicidal thoughts.  It can also increase issues with drug and alcohol use.

First responders who are suffering from PTSD can manage their symptoms and even improve their quality of life with the following coping skills:

  • Learn more about the disorder to help deal with it
  • See a therapist
  • Lean on others for help
  • Join a support group
  • Learn relaxation skills
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Take part in positive activities and continue to do regular routines
  • Use healthy distraction like reading a book, exercising or watching a movie
  • Write down thoughts and feelings
  • Be mindful
  • Improve physical health
  • Be spiritual

Treatment options are available for PTSD including various therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.  It is imperative to get professional help right away before it develops into other, more serious, psychological disorders.  First responders do critical work daily and should never hesitate to get help they need and deserve.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

For more information on the First Responders program:  Click here

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008