Know the Risks and Symptoms of PTSD in First Responders

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition veterans may suffer from when they return from combat. Trauma takes many forms but mental health issues should not be ignored. They can lead to other health risks and complications, including addiction. Stigma still exists where first responders and veterans don’t feel they can speak out about their challenges. Many may be facing similar trauma but are not able to talk about what is happening. Find out more about the risks and symptoms of PTSD in first responders. 

Offering Help

First responders often are on the scene of some pretty challenging scenarios, including mass shootings with multiple victims. They may see people harmed in many ways and also get to save lives. First responders employed by emergency medical services (EMS) are more likely to harm themselves as a result of what they see on the job than the average person. Over half of EMS workers consider stress management programs to be helpful in managing their symptoms. Seeking help is never easy but as more reach out, the stigma continues to go away. When EMS workers are struggling with PTSD, they often have struggled for a while before signs were noticeable to other people. There is past trauma, neglect, and pain but also trauma from the work they do. First responders give so much to others, they often do not know how to take time for themselves to find hope and healing. Finding help is the best way to move forward and maintain the ability to work in this field. 

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The key with first responders is to know what to look for. The symptoms will not look the same. Symptoms are specific to PTSD among first responders. This might include:

  • Not being able to talk about traumatic events
  • Isolation from others
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Memories or flashbacks of incidences which are intrusive and interfere with activities of daily living
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Dangerous behaviors that are overly risky
  • Drug or alcohol consumption that increases

First responders don’t always see the crisis in fellow colleagues. It may take an outsider to notice what is going on. If a person is a first responder, they should understand the job better than anyone. It helps to monitor coworkers for behavioral changes and offer support. Encourage coworkers to participate and be helpful. 

First Responder PTSD Support

Mental health stigma still keeps people locked in habits of shame and sorrow. Many people do not seek help for PTSD because they fear judgment and lack of acceptance. This attitude pervades the first responder community in some places because that has been habitual for a long time. People are worried about losing their jobs or careers over symptoms of mental health issues. Symptoms can carry on for years which bring on medical conditions, mood swings, and substance use disorder issues. It helps to offer:

  • Therapeutic support that is confidential
  • Training in noticing symptoms on fellow first responders
  • Checking into rehab for treatment of addiction and mental health issues
  • Substance use support groups
  • Reach out and talk to other people who might help illuminate what is going on

High Functioning First Responders

One of the harder aspects of PTSD and addiction is first responders are trained to be tough. They go do their job then check out at the end of their shift. They are not allowed to be vulnerable and show any kind of soft side because they are helpers and heroes. The high functioning first responders and veterans with mental health issues and addiction will likely struggle with letting go. They may sit in denial for a long time and not agree to seek treatment. They may not be able to admit they need help until they hit rock bottom. From the outside, they look like they are thriving. Inside, they are hiding secrets. The best way to approach is to ask if they are struggling and offer to help. They have to decide themselves when they are ready but support always means the world to people struggling with addiction and mental health concerns. 

Getting Treatment

Treatment programs for first responders must focus on dual diagnosis and getting them to help emotionally and physically. They often require specialized support with others who understand their work and stress. Veterans and other first responders may understand what they deal with and see on a regular basis at work. Coming home to deal with this stress is important in an appropriate way, which is why treatment is so crucial. The family should be involved in getting help as well so they are able to walk the journey of hope towards healing together. A family who works together in therapy will be more likely to stay together and be successful in supporting a loved one’s journey of recovery. Treatment is not just for the person struggling, but for all the family members and loved ones involved. A key component of good therapeutic work for first responders is family therapy, followed by individual and group counseling efforts that help them navigate their work and home life without being triggered. They may always be there but they can learn to respond more appropriately and find some balance with the right support.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you manage stress and daily life in recovery after addiction. Call us today: 1-888-224-7312