Ptsd In First Responders: Signs And Symptoms You Need To Know
It is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD among first responders. This reality is particularly the case if you or a loved one is a first responder. A key point is that the signs and symptoms of PTSD can be very different among individuals. For example, PTSD symptoms among first responders are often different from PTSD symptoms among sexual assault survivors. PTSD symptoms can vary significantly among first responders, too. No two experiences of trauma are the same, and people process trauma differently.
These symptoms below are specific to PTSD among first responders.
- Intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks of a specific incident
- Refusing to talk about a traumatic event
- Losing interest in activities
- Avoiding places where a traumatic event occurred
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or low self-worth
- Distancing themselves from others
- Feeling tense or on-edge all the time
- Sleep disturbances
Signs Of Ptsd In First Responders
December 20, 2019By Natalie Marston-Salem
All it takes is a sound or a whiff of a specific scent to trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder . Fire fighters, police officers, EMTs, nurses and other first responders are faced with horrors most of us are fortunate enough to never encounter in our entire lives.
From witnessing the results of car accidents and school shootings to putting their own lives on the line, first responders deal with death and tragedy on a regular basis. And in many cases, all that trauma leads to PTSD.As a spouse, parent, child or sibling of a first responder, you cant imagine what your loved one has to go through on a daily basis and its heartbreaking to think about how much trauma they carry with them. Has all that trauma triggered PTSD, or could it?
Unfortunately, this is the risk that first responders face. But being able to identify the signs of PTSD can help you take action and get your loved one the help they need before its too late.
Alterations In Arousal And Reactivity
- A person with PTSD constantly scans the environment for potential danger and may feel extremely threatened by anyone approaching him or her. This is especially threatening if being approached from behind, as is sometimes the case with a second officer.
- A person with PTSD may feel easily threatened and become aggressive or violent when you try to direct or restrain him or her.
- A person with PTSD may carry a weapon because he or she feels unsafe. Someone with PTSD may be more likely to use that weapon because he or she may misinterpret neutral cues as signs of danger.
Why High Rates Of Ptsd In Police Officers
Police officers face dangers every day on the job that few of us will encounter in our lifetimes. Whether duty calls for officers to pursue suspected criminals at high rates of speed, being involved in a shootout, or if they are simply the first to arrive at the scene of a horrific crime, police officers see some of the worst scenes in our society on a daily basis.
From A 911 Dispatchers Perspective
Many people agree the EMS profession is continually evolving. And for dispatchers who hear gunshots fired during domestic disputes or talk to callers who pull the trigger while on the phone its no different.
A lot has changed. Looking back at the 1990s, few people could even define the term PTSD, let alone lead lunch and learns over emotional resilience and self-care tactics for dispatchers programs more common today. Water cooler talk about staying sane on the job wasnt yet a thing, recalls Toni Daniel, a former 911 dispatcher. Instead, meeting at a pub, was, and still is to some degree, used for offloading complicated details of the day.
Daniel spent nearly nine years as a 911 dispatcher in Fayetteville, Ark. She eventually accepted a lead role and said she loved the job and excelled at it. That is, until an unforgettable day when a series of bad calls changed everything.
It was the turning point in my career, Daniel said. I knew the heaviness I felt from that day would not let me continue a career in dispatching.
A fateful call
Daniel received a call about an incident that had started with a sheriff transporting a prisoner to a medical clinic. What appeared as a routine transport to a doctors office ended as a double homicide and suicide.
I answered the phone and dispatched the police, Daniel said. We had plenty of staff. At first, one 911 line lit up, and then bang, all 911 lines opened up and we realized all the people were calling from the same place.
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Cops And Cumulative Ptsd
- Repeated exposure to trauma can weaken the ability to cope, resulting in cumulative PTSD .
- Since its not linked to a specific incident, CPTSD can go undiagnosed.
- Educating police officers about CPTSD can inspire preventative treatment that benefits the whole organization.
In the Boston Globe recently, Nicholas DiRobbio described a disabling condition that forced him out of his job as a cop. One day, something just seemed to come over him. Common noises like kids shouting jarred him. He grew scared to leave his house. Some days he sat in his cruiser and screamed. He didnt recognize himself.
As a cop, you struggle with your identity, he told the Globe. You cant reform, and youre brokenyoure not that person and that hero you used to be. Finally, he quit the force and sought counseling. He knew something was wrong, but he didnt know what.
DiRobbio learned that he suffered from cumulative post-traumaticstress disorder , or the sum reaction to a build-up of trauma over time. Its like piling one too many bricks on a scaffold that finally collapses.
Increased Demands And Risks
In Canada cases such as the RCMP officer Sgt Chris Bewsher have been reported in the news. Sgt Bewsher sued the Canadian government because he perceived he received a lack of support or counselling while he suffered from PTSD. The link to this news report is listed here: Former Mountie with PTSD sues Ottawa after multiple northern postings
In B.C., Canada, the Wounded Warrior Run raises awareness of occupational stress injuries suffered by military and first responders. This is designed to support Canadian first responders, armed forces and veterans.
Police officers may not know that a member of the public they are dealing with is suffering from PTSD, however there are some recognizable symptoms and signs. Not all are apparent at once, or indeed at all, but hopefully knowledge of such will assist them in their duties. Some people that suffer from PTSD have trouble with interpersonal and social skills that at one time were not an issue to them:
PTSD also can trigger the nervous system activation or a high stress condition in the brain and body including signs and symptoms:
- Being highly sensitive to others can lead to hypersensitivity. Such things as the others tone of voice, volume of voice or surroundings, and issues of trust being lost are major hurdles to overcome.
- Not having two-way open communication may cause someone to adopt a rigid portrait of stubbornness, not always a good thing in dealing with officers making demands.
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How Common Is Ptsd In Police Officers
Since the nature of their job is so stressful, there is an increased likelihood of a police officer being diagnosed with the symptoms related to PTSD. It is estimated that almost 20 percent of police officers suffer from PTSD.
There is a strong correlation between being a police officer and PTSD. There are a variety of reasons why police officers experience PSTD symptoms. Below are the 5 most common causes of PTSD for members of the law enforcement community.
The Role Of Leadership
PTSD in any form is similar in many ways to a physical injury. Whether a broken arm or PTSD, once the problem is identified and treated, the sufferer can return to a highly functioning life.
In order for officers to identify PTSD symptoms and receive treatment, there must be a change in the culture of law enforcement. Agencies must focus on improving the mental fitness of officers because there is no doubt that PTSD affects a large number of them.
Law enforcement leadership must acknowledge the role PTSD-afflicted officers play in broader public service issues. While data on this subject is lacking information collected by The Marshall Project showed that the few cities that did respond to this data request reported higher rates of excessive force complaints for veterans versus non-veterans .
Ultimately, these are life or death issues , which highlights why it must be a priority for law enforcement leadership. Agencies must provide mental health resources to support both officers and the communities that they serve.
Dreazen, Y. . Tour of duty. Foreign Policy, , 52-59.
McCanlies, E. C., Mnatsakanova, A., Andrew, M. E., Burchfiel, C. M., & Violanti, J. M. . Positive psychological factors are associated with lower PTSD symptoms among police officers: Post Hurricane Katrina. Stress & Health: Journal of The International Society For The Investigation Of Stress, 30, 405-415.
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Guide On How To Help Someone With Depression
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by helplessness, anger, guilt, frustration, and sadness. If you live with someone suffering from depression, you may be confused sometimes. The support you give is a step towards recovery. Also, you should reach out for help from a mental health professional.
How to identify symptoms of depression in your loved one
If you dont understand the symptoms of depression, it can be difficult to motivate the person to seek help. Some of the warning signs that a friend or loved one is suffering from depression include:
Depression is associated with low energy which can lead to excessive sleeping. Because someone feels tired, they can lose interest in things that you enjoy. While this condition is also associated with insomnia, one may lead to the other. If your family member has withdrawn from friends, its time you take action.
A depressed person will have mood swings. He could be angry one minute and cry the other one. Men tend to engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse.
Depression can change the way you see life in general. Other signs include self-hate, inappropriate guilt, and feeling of worthlessness.
Aches and pain
When someone is depressed, he or she will complain of aches and pains. They will have stomach problems, back pain, headaches, etc. This is followed by an increase or reduction in weight.
How should you approach depression?
What to say to a depressed person
Routine Work Environment Stressors
Although research studies have suggested that critical incidents are the driving force behind development of PTSD, there are also studies that highlight routine work environment stressors as playing an important role in the development and maintenance of police officer psychological distress.
For example, other than critical incidents, research studies identified highly ranked work environment stressors such as lack of consultation and communication, lack of control over workload, inadequate support, and general excessive workload, as well as dissatisfaction with organizational support.
These routine work environment stressors also predict PTSD symptoms in police officers.
In a 2009 research report, researchers say they examined 180 police officers from New York and San Francisco, and they concluded that work environment had the strongest association with PTSD symptoms, above and beyond the effects of exposure to duty-related critical incidents and negative life events outside police service.
This study highlights that work environment stressors such as equipment not working, daily operational hassles, being unclear about work roles, stressful relationships with coworkers, feelings of discrimination, etc. have a direct impact on PTSD symptoms.
Maguen, Shira, et al. Routine Work Environment Stress and PTSD Symptoms in Police Officers. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 197, no. 10, 2009, pp. 754-760.
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It Should Come As No Surprise That 911 Dispatchers Are At Risk Of Developing Ptsd From Their Collection Of Distressing Calls
In fact, dispatchers who take on increasing numbers of tragic 911 calls are just as vulnerable to PTSD as their EMS colleagues in the field, according to an article published in Journal of Emergency Dispatch titled PTSD and Telecommunicators. Author Anna Raskin interviewed Michelle Lilly, a Northern Illinois University associate professor of psychology, whose research suggests that between 18-24% of 911 dispatchers experience PTSD when psychologically evaluated.
New legislation is helping dispatchers ditch the oft-given clerical title, allowing call-takers to become classified as first responders and improve their access to healthcare. Just this year, California lawmakers recognized dispatchers as first responders, along with two counties in Colorado. West Virginia made it official in 2019, as did Texas and Kentucky, to name a few.
Signs Of Ptsd To Look Out For In Your First Responder Loved One
In a Washington Post article from October 2019, a first responder described how he never struggled with PTSD in his 30-year career until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. After that, the very smell of pizza would send him back into that schools cafeteria where trays of pizza rotted away as he and other first responders processed the scene.
As this first responders PTSD symptoms worsened, his life unraveled. He turned to alcohol to try to cope with the trauma, withdrew from family and friends, and lost his marriage. Eventually, he was able to recover after seeking help. But what if he had been able to address his PTSD sooner?
If your loved one is exhibiting the following symptoms, they are probably struggling with PTSD:
Do I Need A Bachelors Degree To Be A Cop
Steps to Becoming a Police Officer Getting a high school diploma or GED is the minimum formal education requirement for most police officers. Many law enforcement organizations may require or prefer applicants with a bachelors degree, associates degree or a certain number of postsecondary education credits
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Law Enforcement Research Shows:
- Avoidance of non-police persons by police may affect the level of needed support during a psychological crises because it interferes with establishing a helping network. â Violanti et al
- PTSD and increased alcohol use led to a tenfold increased risk of suicidal ideation. â Violent, Charles, et al
- 83% of suicides appeared to be related to personal problems â OHara, Violanti, Levenson & Clark
- 13% of suicides were work associated problems â OHara, Violanti, Levenson & Clark
- 11% were military veterans â OHara, Violanti, Levenson & Clark
- Multiple studies showed PTSD and suicidality along with meditating factors such as depression are contributing factors to suicide. â Spinaris Spinaris, Denhof & Kellaway
- PTSD and alcohol use was studied in a sample of International police personnel and concluded that traumatic incidents, coping, and stressors interacted significantly with drinking. â Menard & Arter
- History of childhood sexual abuse prior to the job plays a significant role in substance abuse & suicidal ideation. â Samuels , Violanti & Samuels
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Am I Eligible For A Ptsd Claim
If you are a first responder who had developed PTSD as a direct result of your occupation, you are most likely eligible to file a workers compensation claim for your PTSD. In the state of Washington, the Industrial Insurance Act and Senate Bill 6214 enable first responders to file for PTSD claims, whether it occurred due to a singular traumatic event or it was developed through years of stress and trauma. However, you must meet the following requirements.
- If your PTSD was due to a singular traumatic event, you must file a claim within one year of the date of the event.
- If your PTSD developed over time, you must have worked as a police officer for a minimum of ten years in order to be eligible. If this is the case, your claim must be filed within two years of the date that you receive an official diagnosis by a physician in writing.
- Your claim may be rejected if your PTSD is caused by any actions taken in good faith by your employer. This includes layoffs, terminations, demotions, disciplinary actions, and other work evaluations.
It is highly recommended to retain the services of an experience workers compensation attorney during the claims process. A lawyer with knowledge of the Industrial Insurance Act and the recently passed Senate Bill can help facilitate your claim with ease, reducing additional stress on your end through the process.
Featuresthe Weight Of The Uniform: Post
With nearly 30 per cent of Canadian police officers within the clinical diagnostic range of PTSD and nearly all officers reporting moderate to severe stress, anxiety, or depression , it’s more important than ever that police officers receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder .
While treatment was once inaccessible to some, the advance of technology in the form of video or remote therapy can address this need.
What is PTSD?The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as the experiencing of a life-threatening event or witnessing of a life-threatening event directly or indirectly that leads to re-experiencing phenomena, avoidance behaviours, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, alterations in arousal and reactivity, that result in functional significance and symptoms lasting for more than one month.
Signs and symptomsOnce an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event, they may begin to experience unwanted memories, nightmares and flashbacks of the event, emotional distress and physical reactivity to traumatic reminders or triggers. There may also be avoidance behaviours that develop, such as avoiding external triggers or attempting to not think about the trauma itself.
The indeterminate aspect of PTSD is that symptoms can appear shortly after the critical incident, or they may be delayed for up to six months and beyond depending upon the individual case.
Bruce R.D. Cook
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