First Responders Dealing with PTSD

First Responders are put through rigorous mental and physical training to deal with situations while on duty. But what happens when these men and women are off duty, at home with these painful and horrific images still in their heads, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

According to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a fire department is three times more likely in any given year to experience a suicide among its staff than a line-of-duty death.

A national survey of first responders from the University of Phoenix found mental health challenges are common and while resources are generally available to help, they are often not used. Approximately 85 percent of first responders had experienced symptoms related to mental health issues, 34 percent had received a formal diagnosis with a mental disorder, more than a quarter had been diagnosed with depression, one in 10 had been diagnosed with PTSD and 46 percent had experienced anxiety.

Studies have found that some 75 percent of rescue workers have mild symptoms of psychological trauma following a disaster. Several factors, including longer periods of deployment, inexperience, close contact with corpses and longer shifts, are associated with greater mental health challenges.

TalkWithUs (text 66746) is a national hotline of behavioral health experts who provide year-round, free and confidential disaster crisis counseling. The Fire Fighters Behavioral Health Alliance has a variety of resources designed specifically to help first responders.

Sean Riley, founder and president of a West Virginia crisis referral service, Safe Call Now, urges public safety employees to reduce the stigma of asking for help.

Safe Call Now is a crisis referral center for any emergency services personnel and their families. The center handles mental health issues, domestic violence, financial problems, and personal crises, among others.

First responders, police officers, firefighters, and others attended Armor Up, a two-day post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) training event. The event began with Nicholas County Sheriff William F. Nunley sharing a few words about Dean Motta, a fellow officer who took his own life almost one year ago.

Public safety employees go through trauma every day, and more times than not, the events are one after another after another with no reprieve. Riley added, that police officers, for example, are taught to be linear thinkers. They see a problem, they think of a solution, and they act. This process can happen within a matter of seconds.

And in Orlando, Florida, attorney and former firefighter, Mike Clelland, and a group of local researchers are working on an online outreach program called E-Home Heroes, which first responders suffering PTSD can use to text other people when they are in a crisis.

Clelland hopes the program will give first responders a way to talk to others when they are in a hard situation.

Clelland said, “It is instantaneous, it has a mechanism where you can text if you’re in a crisis, and it’s done in the privacy of your own home.”

Founder Rogers Karven said thousands of people are already using the program, but this is the first time it is being made anonymous and accessible to first responders.