Every day we rely on the men and women in public safety. From firefighters coming to our aid when alarm bells sound to police officers monitoring the roads for dangerous drivers, these professionals work hard to give us peace of mind.
What about their own peace of mind? Over the course of a shift, these individuals can face disturbing and, at times, lethal incidents. They might witness the very worst of humanity one day and an unbearably horrible accident the next. The effects from such encounters do not simply wear off when they clock out for the night.
They are long-lasting and could lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other harmful mental health issues. Extreme distress can also stem from their working conditions. Having to handle hostile attitudes, long hours, not knowing what the next call will entail and even department politics can cause stress, mental fatigue and burnout.
What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Simply put, PTSD is an anxiety-related disorder caused by experiencing traumatic events. Often, the mention of PTSD suggests soldiers fighting overseas, not the heroes here at home. However, police officers, first responders and other health and safety officials are at high risk for PTSD due to routine exposure.
What’s more, the disorder differs for these professionals from what a soldier might experience. Instead of stemming from a solitary or brief incident, PTSD can manifest over time as the result of multiple stress-related events. This is referred to as cumulative PTSD. Cumulative PTSD can be potentially more hazardous to a person’s mental health, as it’s more likely to go unnoticed and, therefore, untreated.
Not only can mental well-being be impaired by such frequent exposures to trauma, but it can also affect an individual’s ability to perform their duties. This can potentially put citizens at risk if officials struggle with the symptoms and detrimental effects of PTSD.
Rough estimates indicate that approximately 15% of U.S. police officers experience PTSD symptoms. With such a high prevalence, there must be adequate help and resources available, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. More still needs to be done in terms of training and extending support to these brave men and women.
Common Signs of PTSD
The signs and symptoms of PTSD can vary widely. Afflicted people may suffer from upsetting memories of the event, physiological and emotional difficulties, and increased sensitivities. Reliving the trauma — either through nightmares or flashbacks — is also common.
If signs are recognized early, an individual can be treated properly. The key to such timely intervention is understanding what signs to look for and how to help the person acknowledge the symptoms themselves. Some physical signs of PTSD include:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Diarrhea or intestinal distress
- Difficulty breathing
- Pounding or racing heartrate
- Chest pain
- Teeth grinding
- Profuse sweating
There are behavioral and emotional signs that officials — and their friends and family members — should learn to recognize as well. These can be subjective and may include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Emotional outbursts
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Substance abuse
- Withdrawal from friends and family
The Importance of Seeking Help
Safety and emergency officials often receive situational training to help them prepare for traumatic encounters. However, some of these professionals may not fully understand the impact that these dangerous and appalling situations can have on their mental health. Aside from improving training regimens, more must be done to properly equip trainees with the emotional tools they’ll need to handle their jobs as public safety professionals.
Aside from the symptoms mentioned above, there could also be potential long-terms effects of PTSD. The effects could lead to changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, depression and thoughts of suicide. Such severe depression and suicidal thoughts are too common. Research has found that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.
While agencies do provide some support, that environment isn’t always conducive to seeking help — professionally or otherwise. Peer support and other services can help, but the stigma surrounding mental health issues is still prevalent in these professions, which may interfere with a person’s pursuit of treatment.
Professional help is necessary, as a certified clinician must be the one to diagnose PTSD. It’s essential to reach out to a doctor or registered mental health specialist if you or someone you know is dealing with these symptoms. The hardworking public safety professionals who keep us safe should not have to suffer in silence.
AUTHOR BIO: Lauren Hoyt is SEO specialist for Galls, LLC, a leading provider of police and public safety uniforms. For over 50 years, Galls has serviced the needs of America’s public safety professionals with a full range of duty gear and apparel from top brands, as well as uniform fittings and customizations.