What is the Impact of Trauma on First Responders? 


The hardest thing to deal with as a first responder is a constant trauma experienced on a daily basis. How it impacts first responders is just now being learned as more programs are being trauma-informed for first responders. First responders lose people on a daily basis, watch people overdose on drugs, see them become violent during a mental health crisis, or rescue them from a burning building. With so many devastating scenarios, they rarely get to see the positive side of life. This impacts their view of life overall and how they navigate their daily living outside of work. Find out how trauma impacts first responders and supports their journey of healing.

Stress Exposure

Mental and physical fitness is key for first responders. They require strength to keep up with the physical aspects of the job, but their spiritual and emotional health takes a big hit along the way. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common as a response to daily stressors. First responders often have symptoms that include numbing of their emotions, flashbacks, anxiety, insomnia, and isolation. They avoid people, places, or things that remind them of trauma. They lose interest in things that once gave them pleasure. Guilt, anger, and worry overtake their thoughts, including when they sleep. It is hard to focus or spend time with loved ones because the traumatic experiences overtake their daily thoughts. This is a sign things are going downhill and the trauma is finally getting to them.

Finding Help

Treatment of trauma can help people who suffer from its effects but they may need lots of other support. The problem is usually not the traumatic experience itself, but how a person interprets it or lets it linger in their consciousness. It is hard to release traumatic feelings alone. The best thing to do is to seek help. In spite of a culture that shames and stigmatizes, there is a way to deal with all those people encounter. There are challenges to helping people who help others. The main thing is they don’t believe they need help. Since so many people struggle in their profession, they just deal with it alone. 


That attitude can take people all the way to management when it comes to the stigma of mental health issues in first responders. Those who open up about what they are feeling are often told to deal with it, get on with the job, and stop talking about the challenges as if nobody else has dealt with it. Everyone sees this regularly so stop whining and go back to work. This kind of attitude from management and other friends on the job makes it difficult. Admitting there is a problem is seen as proof this person may not be strong enough to handle the job. First responders see their work as who they are and their entire identity. If their identity is who they are, then they struggle with that being all of who they are, which means giving it up is hard. Stigma is part of that, a stereotype of what people should be able to do versus what happens when they struggle. Stigma turns people inward, to become more introverted, as they struggle with moving forward in healing.

Encourage Help

Signs stigma is lessening grows with the number of first responders seeking help. They begin to understand what is necessary and think about how to heal. Stigma is not going away anytime soon, but it is at least getting better. A first responder dealing with trauma can sometimes feel like a weak link. Treatment is a great place to get the help that destigmatizes the experience. When someone is getting help with other first responders, it can seem like they won’t know what their experiences are like but it takes time to open up. Self-medicating the distressing feelings with substances does little to assuage the pain. Other problems are going to lead to treatment because mental health issues don’t just go away. They drive family, friends, loved ones, and that person themselves, into isolation. They hide from everything, they struggle with their job, and may eventually burn out and not be able to get back up as easily. 

How Treatment Helps

When treatment is offered, a person can often experience healing in many ways:

  • Not feeling so alone
  • Understanding how trauma starts and ways to heal it
  • Knowing that trauma is the natural response to experiences they have
  • Discovering positive mindsets and how to shift gears at work and home
  • Thinking of trauma differently rather than trying to ‘get rid of it’
  • Learning how to navigate healing without substances

Getting past the stigma to seek treatment is hard. Once a person does that, they are more likely to receive the healing they need. Everyone builds resilience to trauma differently. The more supportive and trustworthy the people who surround first responders are, the better off they are. It is important to learn how to handle what they see without returning to old behaviors. With the right support and healing, this is possible as they learn to manage their experiences and find hope for the future. 

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