PTSD and First Responders: A Mental Health Emergency on the Homefront

Police, Fire, EMS and dispatch are all a part of your emergency response. People look at them as extra ordinary people, some say “Heroes”. However, they are just humans that care. They are humans that want to make a difference in their little piece of this world. Everyday they get up to go to work just the same as anyone else. They kiss their family goodbye, rub their pet on the head and walk out the door to go to work. Every day they do this, not knowing what the day will bring, not knowing if this will be the last time they see their kids or their dog they have had for years, not knowing if they will be mentally prepared for what the day will bring. For some, as soon as they start putting on the uniform, the anxiety starts before they have even left the house. First responders have anxiety? Yes, first responders are human; we have human reactions just like anyone else. 

      In the evening when you watch the news think about the horrible stuff you see. The child that was shot, the accident that took lives, or the fire that took everything from a local family. Every bad thing that you hear about is our job. It is our job to try to save the child, to figure out how the horrific accident happened, or to put out that fire, and after we do so, we move on to the next emergency. We can go from trying to save a child’s life to helping an elderly person get back in bed with a smile on our face, hiding the residual emotion from the emergency call we just left. We have to push that call down inside ourselves, in order to take care of the next person. Someone recently asked, “What is it like to be a first responder?” It is seeing the best and the worst in the world in one day. It is the feeling of awe at saving a life, to the feeling of not being good enough because you didn’t. We ride this emotional roller coaster every time we go to work. 

   How do first responders deal with everything that they witness? Most of the time, they don’t. Their experiences get pushed down and shoved into a box, and eventually that box overflows, and rock bottom occurs. Eventually your “heroes” reach a breaking point. So to reach the point that I am getting to, I would like to share the definition of PTSD:

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.

People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted.

American Psychological Association. (2020). Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/topics/ptsd/

PTSD is a body’s natural reaction to unnatural events. Having PTSD or any kind of mental health issue is not a sign of being weak; it is something that is out of our control. It is real. Just because it goes untreated or unrecognized, doesn’t make it go away. As first responders we need to start standing up as examples and get the help that we need. Go to that peer support group, go to that therapist and see them, or go to your close friends and talk to them. IT IS OK NOT TO BE OK!

    Have you ever noticed that first responders have one of the highest divorce rates, alcohol abuse and depression? Did you know that more first responders die by suicide, than in the line of duty? With each blog that Fight the War Within Foundation publishes, we target someone else in need of support. This blog is for you, the first responder that won’t get the help you need. I am challenging you to step up. Step up and lead the way for a new generation of first responders by encouraging mental care. Let’s break the stigma that you are weak if you need help to cope. Let’s break the generational curse and make it ok to talk about what happened and how it affected us. Lets tell the next generation, that PTSD is real. 

If you or someone you know needs help please reach out, come check out our first responder group therapy/ peer support group. Take that first step for self-care. 

Fight on, warriors.

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