Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is described as a mental health condition that has a number of causes. While doing some research you will find it is more common than one would believe. Living with PTSD may not be a simple as taking medication or regular visits with a counselor.

How do I know? I have finally hit my breaking point realizing it has been part of my life for quite some time. My story may be like many other first responders. We are afraid to realize it because we are the ones that are there to help. We are not the ones needing help. I grew up in the “old days” of EMS where getting someone’s blood on your uniform was a badge of honor. Sound gross now, but its the truth.

I want to tell my story in hopes to help others seek assistance.

I am new to this, so bear with me.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that results from a traumatic event or events within your life. People always hear PTSD and first think this is something veterans suffer from once returning from deployment. This is by far a total myth. Yes, veterans serving are one of the most recognized groups.

Anyone can suffer from PTSD. The mind is an amazing organ within our body. It gives us our own individual personality, our own thoughts, and its what makes everyone different. Whether you are in the military, a first responder, a stay at home mom, or a banker. Anyone at any given time can have an event or group of events which changes their life. The events could be one isolated event or a culmination of years of different events.

In some cases, you don’t even have to be directly involved in an event. Just being a witness to an event, for example, the collapse of the events from September 11, 2001. I choose this event because there is data that documents millions of people who suffered from PTSD from the events of that day. They were not directly involved in any of the events or rescue efforts. But just witnessing the hundreds of people deciding to take their own lives is not “normal.”

Veterans seeing other human lives ended or even having to take a human life themselves just sound horrific. Having to be deployed away from family and friends for months or years. Sure they choose to be in the military, don’t you think long periods of time away from loved ones takes mental fatigue?

As for us in the world of the first responder, including everyone from EMS, Fire, Police, Nurses, and Doctors, PTSD is something we always think. “It will never happen to me” or “I will be fine.” The truth is YOU ARE NOT FINE!! There I said it.

I have been noticing that the more events you come in contact with, the more likely you will start showing signs of PTSD. The key is to realize you are the one needing help now. Sometimes it may be something as simple as a monthly visit with a counselor. Even a regular weekly discussion around the table during a meal with some colleagues. Whatever it takes to just get out the emotions. I say emotions because I have learned first hand that talking about an incident is just simply talking about an incident. That’s what is call Post Incident Analysis no a true debriefing or defusing.

Statistics Related to PTSD

PTSD was not adopted as an illness in military veterans until the 1970s and became an official diagnosis until 1980. This means that PTSD is a fairly new diagnosis even though it has been around for decades. This is according to the American Psychiatric Association ~ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Since the studies are relatively new to the medical field we will look at a few studies.

In a study of veterans deployed and non-deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 13% tested positive for PTSD with some studies showing as much as 20%. Those numbers are ridiculously high and prove why we relate PTSD first to the military veterans. Then the question is always been. What are we truly doing for our veterans? We have seen some getting the treatment needed and other living out on the street homeless. My opinion is who dropped the ball on this one?

In May of 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a bulletin focusing on mental health in public safety. The information found in this publication comes from the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This bulletin presents information on the mental health of EMS, firefighter, and police officers. The numbers may surprise some of the people not involved in public safety. Those involved in public safety, this may be an eye-opener.

While reviewing the statistics keep in mind that in some area firefighters provide emergency medical services, police officers provide firefighting support, and in some rare cases, police officers provide all 3 services. It is becoming a thing of the ware individuals only perform one of the three. Mostly in large jurisdictions will you see personnel in only one of the three. In volunteer organizations, a firefighter will be called on to function as EMTs and paramedics. this will more than likely change these stats slightly.

We can look as stats all day long for each profession while the end results will tell the true story. Studies show in public safety professionals never have enough time to recover from an incident, 69 percent of EMS professionals. Depression is one of the mental health illness firefighters suffer from, 16.85% of volunteers and 13.06% of career. Other mental illnesses in stress, suicidal ideations, and substance abuse. Police officers spending endless hours alone on patrols are 23% to 25% of having suicidal ideation with a 0.7 to 55 percent attempt rate.

A simply put comparison is that 16.35% of military veterans and 16.1% of public safety professionals suffer from some type of PTSD.

Conclusion

Living with PTSD while being a public safety professional has been overlooked over the until recently. Meaning the “old-timers” that have always brushed it aside are beginning to realize PTSD is real. Like “Da Costa’s syndrome ” (Civil War), “shell shock” (World War I), “battle fatigue” (World War II), and “post-Vietnam syndrome.” “Burn-out” associated with public safety professionals has a name called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Until recently this was something I never thought could happen to myself or any of my colleagues. I have realized there are more public safety professionals not willing to admit they have the signs. Whether its because they don’t want to feel weak or vulnerable.

During the recent pandemic, there will be more and the numbers will increase. This will be due to the long hours, the fatigue, and in some cases quarantining from family. Public Safety professionals need to talk and release their emotions before becoming just another statistic.

Seek the help you need before its too late.

Please share this with your local Public Safety Professional and add any comments below.

Ken and Kelli