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First Responder PTSD Symptoms You Should Know

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First responders usually are the first on the scene of emergencies. They are exposed to stressful, life-threatening, and disturbing situations. While first responders are trained to handle these situations, they can still develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you or a loved one is a first responder, you should be aware of first responder PTSD symptoms. 

How Likely is PTSD in First Responders?

First responders like firefighters, police officers, nurses, and EMTs are exposed to multiple traumatic events as part of their job. This exposure could even occur daily. For example, a firefighter might have to see someone die in a fire. A police officer might witness their partner being killed. An EMT could see someone severely injured in a car accident and realize there is nothing they can do to prevent them from dying. 

As a result of repeated exposure, it can become difficult to process each event. It is in our nature to be empathetic when we see others in a distressing situation. First responders are trained to set aside their emotions and focus on doing their job. However, this can be quite challenging in traumatic situations. 

In recent years, research suggests first responders live with an increased risk of PTSD. Over 80 percent of first responders are exposed to some form of traumatic experience, and 10 to 15 percent develop PTSD, according to medical journal database Science Direct.

As reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research suggests that one in three first responders will develop PTSD during their careers. Out of all first responder careers, EMTs have the highest risk of a PTSD diagnosis. 

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

PTSD is diagnosed based on the symptoms the person is experiencing and other specific criteria, as follows:

  • Experiencing one avoidance symptom.
  • Experiencing two or more mood and cognition symptoms.
  • Reliving the experience at least once through dreams and flashbacks.
  • Having two or more reactive and arousal symptoms. 

Additionally, the symptoms and criteria must occur for at least one month or longer to be considered PTSD.

First Responder PTSD Symptoms You Should Know 

Avoidance symptoms are when the person avoids specific people, objects, places, or events associated with the traumatic event. They can also include attempting to avoid feelings and thoughts related to the event. 

Mood and cognition symptoms are common after a traumatic experience and usually subside within a few weeks. They could include feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, or self-loathing. In addition, a person could have problems recalling specific details about the event. Another symptom is losing interest in activities and hobbies one used to enjoy. 

Reactive and arousal symptoms can become persistent and make it difficult to focus on work, eating, and relationships. They can make the person seem constantly angry and stressed. Other symptoms could include insomnia, constantly feeling tense, irrational outbursts of anger, and being constantly on guard. 

Furthermore, reliving the experience through dreams and flashbacks could occur even while awake. A triggering event could occur, causing the flashback. During a flashback, the person can seem frightened, afraid, and withdrawn. 

How To Treat PTSD in First Responders

PTSD treatment for first responders is similar to treating others with PTSD. Some effective treatment options include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy helps first responders examine their negative thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT helps first responders address thought patterns, such as their view they must appear in control at all times or viewing situations as “all or nothing.” 
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDM). This therapy allows the first responder to focus on specific emotions and feelings associated with particular parts of the trauma rather than relive the entire experience. It also helps replace negative responses with positive ones to help them move forward.

Why First Responders need PTSD Support Groups

Many first responders have problems acknowledging when they have PTSD. They learn to be tough no matter the situation they experience. Furthermore, any display of vulnerability goes against what they learned. 

PTSD support groups for first responders are essential to allowing a safe space for them to talk about their experiences without judgment. Support groups can also be therapeutic and help them begin to address their trauma because they know they are not the only first responder dealing with PTSD. 

In addition, many first responders turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with their PTSD. While they may appear outwardly fine, they are struggling inside. Using substances can seem like an acceptable solution to being able to feel more normal. Unfortunately, continued use leads to dependence and addiction. 

As such, having access to support groups could potentially help first responders from developing addictions.

PTSD and Addiction Treatment in Murfreesboro, TN

First responders can rely on Tulip Hill in Murfreesboro, TN, to provide the help they need when they are struggling with PTSD and addiction. We offer personalized dual-diagnosis treatment programs to treat both disorders in a supportive and caring environment. Take the first steps to overcome your trauma and addiction by contacting us today. 

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