First responders, or public safety professionals, play a crucial role in keeping communities safe. This often means that first responders are put in dangerous situations where they risk their lives to save or help others. These dangerous situations are not typical events that the average person would experience, often involving the threat of death, injury, or violence. First responders who are exposed to these dangerous situations may develop what is known as PTSD.
What is PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that results in a set of reactions from experiencing a traumatic event. Common experiences of trauma that can lead to PTSD include, but are not limited to, experiencing or witnessing the following:
- Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding
- Life-threatening or serious injuries
- Life-threatening violence such as acts of war
- Physical or sexual violence
These life-changing events can be very distressing to someone who has experienced or witnessed them and often lead to developing PTSD. While other life-changing events can cause distress such as the loss of a loved one, or divorce, they are not considered traumatic events that cause PTSD.
Who does PTSD Affect?
First responders are not the only people who can be affected by PTSD. PTSD is a mental illness that does not discriminate based on social or biological factors; it affects those who have been exposed to and who have experienced trauma.
People who are affected with PTSD experience a traumatic event directly or indirectly. This means that one with PTSD was either directly involved in a dangerous situation first-hand, or experienced repeated exposure to vivid details of another’s dangerous situation. For example, someone who experienced life-threatening violence may develop PTSD from their first-hand exposure. Similarly, a first responder to this situation such as a police officer who was repeatedly exposed to the case details (a second-hand experience) could also develop PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
There are four categories of PTSD symptoms, all of which can vary in severity depending on the individual. PTSD usually appears within three months of the event but may not appear for years following the event (often referred to as Delayed Onset PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can affect ones mental and physical health, and fall into the following four categories:
- Intrusion: Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may experience intrusive thoughts. Examples of intrusive thoughts of someone with PTSD can include flashbacks of the traumatic event, distressing dreams and memories, and unwanted thoughts.
- Avoidance: People who PTSD may actively avoid anything that could trigger reminders or distressing memories of their traumatic experience. This may include avoidance of specific people, places, activities, objects, and sensory.
- Alterations in cognition and mood: One may encounter alterations in their memory, thoughts, and feelings surrounding the traumatic event they experienced. These alterations could include distorted thoughts, dissociative experiences, loss or inability or recall specific memories, and negative feelings towards oneself, others, events, activities, and places.
- Alterations in reactivity and arousal: Commonly, someone with PTSD may experience alterations in their usual reactivity and arousal. For example, someone may behave recklessly, self-destructively, have issues sleeping, or experience a lack of concentration or arousal.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. People who are suffering from PTSD are suffering from a real disorder that affects both their mental and physical well-being. If you or someone in your life is experiencing trauma related to PTSD, it’s important to seek help. Some ways that you can proactively consolidate your PTSD include:
- Professional counselling and therapy
- Medication such as anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication may help elevate specific symptoms of PTSD
- Strong social support, including support groups
Are you or a loved one experiencing PTSD? Contact a community organization such as the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support resources in your area. To learn more about PTSD, check out the following helpful resources:
- Canadian Mental Health Association Overview on PTSD
- National Institute of Mental Health PTSD Overview
- PTSD Brochure
- Online Evaluation Tools
- Peer Support
First Responders who would like to inquire about the We Help First services, education, and training, please contact us to learn more.