First Responders and PTSD
For many workers, employees and colleagues, the worst thing that can happen during a workday is that they lose a client, sit in traffic on the way home, or miss a flight to a business meeting.
For first responders such as firefighters, police officers, military personnel, emergency dispatchers, EMTs and others who keep people safe, a bad day can mean much worse: danger, chaos or personal tragedy.
Over time, exposure to that type of stress can take a toll on first responders’ mental and physical health, eventually leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to a survey by the University of Phoenix, PTSD is common for these everyday heroes.
- 80 percent of firefighters report being exposed to a traumatic event.
- 90 percent of police and EMTs report exposure to trauma.
- 49 percent of first responders were offered “Psychological First Aid” after traumatic events.
- 85 percent of first responders experienced symptoms related to mental health issues.
The same data found that 34 percent of first responders have received a formal mental health disorder diagnosis, like depression or PTSD.
Those PTSD symptoms can include:
- Flashbacks, nightmares and recurring thoughts
- Emotional numbness
- Extreme worry, guilt, anger or hopelessness
- Avoidance of people, places or things that are reminders of the trauma
- A loss of interest in things that once gave pleasure
- Feeling anxious, on edge or jumpy and startling easily
- Sleep disorders
- Problems with alcohol, drugs or food
Across the U.S. many first responders have mental health services available to them, but are not using them to their full potential. But that requires acknowledging the problem, and first responders don’t always find that easy.
Why? According to the research, some may feel their supervisor will treat them differently and they may be passed over for promotions.
Other concerns are co-workers perceiving them as “weak” and fear that others will see any admission that they are struggling as proof they are not up to the job requirements, which can be difficult to contemplate for some who view their work as their identity.
There is also the stigma surrounding mental health issues, which stereotypes those with mental health problems as being defective or weaker, sometimes leading to prejudice and discrimination.
This research got me thinking: how many security executives, including security officers, have been exposed to traumatic events and are also experiencing negative mental health symptoms or PTSD? Security professionals, no matter which sector they operate – schools, hospitals, government buildings and more, have been or are on the front line, helping people and such, are witness to psychological traumas. But who is helping them?
Case in point: use of deadly force by an armed security officer at a retail store or a bank. Physically, the security officer is okay. However, mentally, how is he today, six months from today, and five years out, from that traumatic event?
I recently spoke with a long-time security executive who has experienced two active shooter incidents in his school district. In both instances he was a first responder. He has recently been diagnosed with PTSD and is working through the illness. He says, “I wonder how many fellow security officers from across the industry are dealing with PTSD? We in the security industry as first responders are not supported as well as other first responders who receive support.”
As an industry, are we offering support to security officers and security first repsonders? What more can we do to reduce stigmas around mental health issues? Beyond employee assistance programs, there needs to be additional mental health counseling and support to mitigate and manage the symptoms of PTSD.
What are you doing in your enterprise to ensure the mental health of your security team? I would like to know. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.