One in four firefighters could be dealing with PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is commonly associated with current and former military personnel - often when those soldiers return home. But more and more, PTSD is being found in other segments of society.
While there really is no group of people that is immune from PTSD, there are occupations where PTSD is more likely to be an issue. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that seven or eight percent of Americans will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives; that amounts to about 5-million people in a given year. In comparison, studies point to a much higher rate among firefighters: up to 37-percent.
Neil O'Donnell is a psychologist who works with clients suffering from all levels of PTSD.
Oâ??Donnell says, "First Responders have a difficult time, often, coming in and seeking treatment because this is supposed to be part of their job. They're tough. This is stuff they see every day. They don't hear their colleagues talking about it. They think there must be something wrong with them. They don't want to look weak â?? that sort of thing. Those things get in the way."
Chief Pat Parker of the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department says, "Firefighters, police, EMS - they're so highly trained to help people and so, not that there's a big "S" on our shirts that says we're Superman, but I think that if called early enough, we always feel that we can make a difference. And when you get to an incident and you can't, it's a big kick in the gut that, 'Wow, my training didn't pay off and this person did die."
Chief parker says awareness of PTSD is certainly better now than when he started more than 30 years ago. What was once swept under the rug, firefighters are on the lookout for symptoms of in each other - especially after difficult calls.
Chief Parker says, "The big thing is, just, look for the signs; depression, anger, marital problems, are they drinking more, are they smoking, do you see drug use. Those are, surely, all signs that someone might be suffering."
As treatment goes, it really depends on what caused the PTSD. Dr. Oâ??Donnell says clients who've experienced one-time events can sometimes be cured. More drawn-out causes, like childhood abuse can mean managing PTSD rather than expecting to be cured. As Dr. O'Donnell says, for clients who've been carrying PTSD around for years, while they may not get all better, getting a lot better can sometimes be enough.