When you think of emergency medical services or EMS, you most likely think of the first person there to help- and you’d be exactly right. EMS makes up a lot of different job titles. From ambulance drivers and 911 responders to triage nurses, these are the people who are there first during a crisis. With this important job comes a lot of responsibility and mental trauma. Keep in mind that EMS workers are the first on the scene, the first to talk to someone in crisis, and the first to treat a person who is in pain, wounded, or has mental health issues.
Here is what you need to know about EMS PTSD. How prevalent it is, what can be done, and how it is treated.
What Are the Statistics?
There are quite a few statistics that showcase the rising number of EMS workers with post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, according to the University of Phoenix:
- 51% of first responders report participating in pre-trauma mental health training
- 80% of firefighters report being exposed to a traumatic event
- 90+% of police and EMTs report exposure to trauma
- 49% of first responders were offered “Psychological First Aid” after traumatic events
- 85% of first responders experienced symptoms related to mental health issues
Those are incredibly high numbers. Even more alarming is the fact that according to one report, there is a rate of approximately 3.5 percent of adults in the United States who have a lifetime risk of developing PTSD. For those who work as first responders or EMS workers, that rate jumps to a surprising 34 percent.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people have heard about it but what does it really mean? PTSD is a mental health disorder stemming from witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. This occurs in people who have suffered a major disaster, those who have been sexually assaulted, or for some – even grieving from the death of a loved one.
While anyone can get PTSD, it has higher rates of occurrence in those who work in EMS fields.
PTSD symptoms range from negative thoughts and depression to reactive symptoms and avoiding reminders. Everyone experiences PTSD differently but the symptoms have a basic root system that is typical for those with this disorder.
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Why is PTSD So Prevalent in the EMS Fields?
You have to consider that PTSD is so prevalent in the EMS fields because of what these workers face on a daily basis. Many EMS workers see victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault, and even homicides. An EMS worker is the first on the scene after a car accident and a natural disaster. They see things on a regular basis that most people may not ever see in their lifetime.
Along with dealing with trauma on a regular basis, EMS workers experience lack of sleep (69 percent), anxiety (46 percent), and depression (27 percent).
And one of the problems is the stigma surrounding mental issues. Many EMS workers feel that if they do reach out to someone about what they’re going through that they will be in jeopardy of looking less likely to be able to do their job. They feel that co-workers may look at them as being weak (45 percent), that they will be treated differently by their boss (55 percent) or that they will miss out on promotions (34 percent).
This creates an atmosphere of constantly being on-edge. On one hand, they have these valid feelings that require treatment but on the other hand, they feel that others won’t understand. And in some cases, they may be exactly right.
Treatment for EMS PTSD
It is important to know that a diagnosis of PTSD requires the patient to have had symptoms for at least a month. Once that is determined, there is treatment available that can help.
There are trauma-based therapies available and these include:
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
This involves facing certain triggers and trauma. Yet, facing these upsets are done in an environment that is safe and conducive to healing. Patients learn to cope with the triggers and their negative thoughts.
Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
During this type of therapy, patients with PTSD process traumatic memories and thoughts while going through eye movements guided by the professional. EMDR uses the simultaneous recollection of memories and stimulation in the brain triggered by eye movements to reduce the intensity of traumatic memories and the emotions associated with them.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
This therapy involves taking negative thoughts and feelings and redirecting them to positive thoughts and actions.
Stress Inoculation Therapy
This involves a variety of therapies like meditation, biofeedback, roleplaying, muscle relaxation exercises, and breathing exercises.
Those who have PTSD from their job in the EMS field should not feel alone. In fact, even though about one in every five persons has some kind of mental health issue, it is higher for first responders and EMS personnel. This is due to the trauma they face every day. And having feelings of trauma is normal behavior. In fact, some liken PTSD to a brain injury prefer the term post-traumatic stress injury instead.
If you or someone you love is an EMS worker with PTSD, there is help. At Transformations Treatment Center, we work to provide a customized treatment plan. Contact us so we can help you or your loved one live a life that doesn’t have to be weighted down by the effects of PTSD.