First responders are often pictured as stoic and heroic public servants that appear early to the scene of a tragedy, medical emergency, or crisis. It takes a tremendous amount of mental strength and bravery, even a willingness to risk their own lives, for a first responder to put everything aside and dive right into the scene of the tragedy.
A first responder is someone who responds to emergency situations in order to provide assistance. Paramedics, police officers, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, and military health care workers are all examples of first responders. While on the line of duty, they frequently face potentially dangerous and traumatic situations which put them at risk for a variety of medical and mental health issues, such as trauma, anxiety, burnout, and depression.
The culture of first responders often makes it difficult to bring up issues they experience, as well as deeply troubling events that continue to affect them. They may know what the job involves, but that does not mean what they witness and experience will not cause them pain, anger, and sadness. Additionally, in the moment of tragedy, first responders are the ones who must remain calm through the chaos. They often fear opening up about how it affects them in fear of losing their job or being looked down upon.
This inability to share their feelings puts first responders in a dangerous position. A 2015 survey published by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) reported that of the 4,022 emergency medical service providers who responded, 86% said they had experienced critical stress. As a result of that stress, more than 37% said they had contemplated suicide, with 6.6% having made an actual attempt.
It is important for first responders to realize that while it is their job to help in emergency situations, they are experiencing the same trauma as everyone else, and would benefit greatly from a therapy such as Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART).
What is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to experiencing or witnessing a shocking, distressing event. Some examples of common traumatic events are natural disasters, car accidents, and assault. Anyone involved in a traumatic event can potentially experience trauma. Trauma can happen to anyone at any time in any place. Approximately 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma at some point in their lives.
There are several symptoms associated with trauma one can potentially experience. These symptoms include:
- Nausea and/or dizziness
- Insomnia or altered sleep patterns
- Difficulty maintaining and starting new relationships
- Emotional, specifically angry outbursts
- Negative emotions such as sadness, anger, denial, fear, and shame
- Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping
- Gastrointestinal problems
All of these symptoms and feelings are a completely natural and a normal part of the recovery process after witnessing or experiencing a trauma. However, sometimes these symptoms may continue without diminishing. It is important to seek aid if an individual is experiencing trauma to help alleviate their symptoms and prevent them from getting worse. Trauma, if left untreated, can lead to a variety of different mental diagnoses such as PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can develop after having witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Serious accidents, natural disasters, losing a loved one, terrorist attacks, war/combat and assault are all examples of traumatic events than can cause PTSD.
PTSD, at any given moment, affects approximately 3.5% of adults in the United States. Additionally, it is estimated that around 7-8% of the population will experience PTSD at some point during their lives, with women being twice as likely than men.
There are many different symptoms someone with PTSD may experience. In order for someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, they do not have to experience all of the symptoms on the list. The symptoms include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Negative thoughts about oneself, other people, or the world
- Feelings of hopelessness, detachment, sadness, anger, guilt, shame, or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
- Difficulty maintaining or creating close relationships
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the individual of the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind the individual of the traumatic event
- Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Easily startled or frightened
- Trouble sleeping
- Aggressive and/or reckless behaviors
Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event will experience the symptoms associated with PTSD. However, symptoms have to last for more than a month for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD. Also, an individual may not experience PTSD until many months after the traumatic event, however most individuals will develop symptoms within three months. For people with PTSD, these symptoms cause significant distress and can prohibit them from continuing with their daily activities. Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will end up with PTSD; there is no way to know if a person will or will not experience PTSD symptoms after a trauma.
Early Intervention and Treatment is Critical
Trauma and PTSD are very real symptoms and can affect even the people who are there to help, such as first responders. It can leave lasting scars that can completely alter an individual’s demeanor and character for the rest of their lives if left untreated. Seeking treatment can completely turn someone’s life around after a traumatic event, giving them the chance to get back the life they had before their trauma.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for both PTS and PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health diagnoses. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Normally, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing a person from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on bullying victims, combat vets, and others.
If you are a first responder, do not let trauma and PTSD continue to control your life and prevent you from doing your job effectively. Contact ART International Training and Research to learn more about the therapy or to find a therapist near you.