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Reaching out - PTSD among First Responders

There have been 34 suicides among First Responders across Canada in the last year according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization that supports Research, Training & Education Dealing with traumatic stress among first responders. That’s 34.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can happen to someone because of a single traumatic event. However, first responders are exposed to hundreds - perhaps thousands of these events over the course of a career. Crippling symptoms such as anxiety, nightmares, panic attacks, and recurrent memories are experienced by an estimated 87 per cent of first responders– some individuals reaching out for help, and some not.

I recently spoke with a number of first responders who were eager to share some of their perspective for the purpose of this blog. They describe some accident scenes as almost an unreal moment in time; Situations that are beyond what can be imagined by watching the most graphic emergency television series.

“It’s not normal. We pull up to a scene and it’s not something that the average person is exposed to daily”, comments a seasoned paramedic, “As you are driving, you begin to hear over the radio what to expect. Once you arrive, the training kicks in, and you do what needs to be done.” Often, it’s not until after the call when processing of the event begins.

For some, emotional detachment is not a problem. One first responder makes a habit of repeating, “It’s not our emergency”, when arriving on scene. For others, it’s not that easy to cope. “We have tried to change the environment that helps the newcomers”, replies one paramedic. “We do have resources available, but it is still up to the employee to reach out and access them.”

Many emergency workers have come up in an environment where “suck it up” has been the motto. Where those afflicted by traumatic events are seen as weak. Burnout is a reality of many workers.

“We are used to being the ‘fixers’ in our professional lives, but we are probably the last to seek help when we need it”, says a first responder. Help comes first of all by who you work with, “You are only as good as those around you”, is a common theme echoed. “We have to talk to each other”.

Of course, PTSD is not only limited to first responders. A variety of traumatic situations are experienced by people every day. If you are experiencing some of the above symptoms, or suspect a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is confronted, the easier it is to overcome. The longer that unresolved emotions and memories continue, the worse the symptoms will get. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness; It’s about finding strength for tomorrow.

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