Health & Wellness

An Epidemic That Cannot Be Ignored: PTSD & Suicide Risk for First Responders

NEP Media Staff

April 25, 2023

First responders usually hate to be called this - but you are the heroes people rely on in times of crisis. You are the ones who are called upon to save lives, protect property, and keep communities safe from harm. Unfortunately, while your job is rewarding, it can be incredibly stressful and traumatic. The constant exposure to danger and trauma can take a toll on your mental health, leading to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and increased risk of suicide.

According to the National Institutes of Health, first responders are at a higher risk for PTSD than the general population. This is due to the nature of their work, which often involves exposure to traumatic events, such as natural disasters, accidents, and violent crimes. The National Center for PTSD reports that up to 20% of first responders may suffer from PTSD, compared to 7-8% of the general population.

PTSD is a debilitating condition that can cause various symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and irritability. If left untreated, PTSD can lead to long-term mental health problems like substance abuse, depression, and suicide. In fact, firefighters and police officers are at a significantly higher risk of suicide than the general population. They are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. This is an epidemic that cannot be ignored.

First responders must prioritize taking care of their mental health and feel comfortable seeking help if they struggle with PTSD or other mental health conditions. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that first responders who received treatment for PTSD had better outcomes and were more likely to return to work than those who did not receive treatment.

Many resources are available to first responders who are experiencing mental health issues or PTSD. For example, most departments have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that offer confidential counseling services to employees and their families. Counseling can be a tremendous resource for first responders. In addition, online counseling programs have become highly commonplace and can offer confidential and convenient support for first responders who may not have access to traditional counseling services.

Additionally, numerous organizations specialize in supporting first responders, such as the First Responder Support Network and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7 support for people in crisis, including first responders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides resources and information on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

One of the biggest challenges that first responders face regarding mental health is the stigma surrounding it. There is a belief that seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of weakness or will be seen as a mark against your ability to do your job. But this isn't true. Just as you wouldn't hesitate to seek medical attention for a physical injury, you shouldn't wait to seek help for a mental health issue.

It's also important to take steps to prevent mental health issues from arising in the first place. This can include regular debriefings after difficult calls, training on coping mechanisms, and ensuring that first responders have the necessary resources and support to do their jobs effectively.

In conclusion, mental health and PTSD are serious issues facing first responders today. It's time to start talking openly about these issues and to provide the necessary resources and support to those who need it. Remember, seeking help for a mental health issue is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of strength. By taking care of your own mental health, you'll be better equipped to continue doing the vital work you do daily.

NEP Services is proud to present - "We Need to Talk: A Serious Discussion on Behavioral Health Among Emergency Responders," June 27-28, 2023 in Las Vegas, NV. For more information, visit: www.NEP

Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash.