Public safety personnel are at an increased risk for stress related issues, including PTSD. While PTSD is linked to trauma exposure, not everyone who experiences or is exposed to trauma will have symptoms severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of PTSD. Often times, however, public safety personnel may instead experience chronic stress in response to repeated trauma exposure.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. After being involved in traumatic events themselves or witnessing traumatic events, it is common for most people to experience symptoms like upsetting memories, bad memories, and trouble sleeping (ptsd.va.gov). However, if the symptoms continue longer than a month or several months, a diagnosis of PTSD is possible and you would want to meet with a mental health provider for accurate assessment and diagnosis.
We’ve all heard the word “mindfulness” being thrown around lately as if it’s a new trend. The truth is, the practice of mindfulness has been around for quite some time! Traditionally and historically practiced in Western cultures, the practice of mindfulness has been shown to have numerous benefits. Mindfulness, depending on who you ask, can have several meanings. However, at the most basic level, the concept of mindfulness simply means intentionally and purposefully paying attention to the present moment without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, as cited in Williams, 2017).
A program run by the National Volunteer Fire Council. They have a help line, text based help service, and have also collected a list of many good resources for people looking for help and support.
“SUPPORTING OUR FIREFIGHTERS”
Resources to help yourself, a coworker, family member or friend.
Firefighters routinely experience stress on the job, and while some amount of stress actuates peak performance, especially in life-threatening situations, too much stress for extended periods of time adversely impacts the body and mind. Indeed, prolonged stress is one of the leading causes of health problems among firefighters. If not identified and managed in a timely manner, excessive stress can manifest as symptoms of depression and anxiety, headaches, digestive problems, hypertension, and even heart attacks.
First responders are special people. Most don’t think about money or glory; rather they are motivated by the reward of providing safety and relief, doing all they can to help others.
While some might consider first responders super heroes, just like the rest of humanity they have a very real vulnerability: mental health. Few go into the profession thinking about how the job will affect them mentally. As a public servant who cares, I feel mental health should be held to the same standard as physical fitness.
First Responders are routinely exposed to traumatic events in the course of their duties. As such, they are at increased risk for long-term problems from traumatic stress. This resource sheet answers some of the questions you may have about trauma, normal stress responses, and chronic stress disorders.
Check out this PowerPoint presentation from the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue. According to the presentation, the fire fighter population is at high risk for suicide, with divorce, trauma, and stress being common risk factors.