Distinguishing Between ASD and PTSD

Author: IAFF Staff

May 30, 2018

Studies show that about 20 percent of fire fighters and paramedics will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their career, compared to 3.5 percent of the general population. However, acute stress disorder (ASD) is lesser known. You may not recognize the signs of this specific mental health disorder.

ASD can occur in the month following a trauma. The symptoms associated with ASD overlap with those of PTSD. A notable difference is that a PTSD diagnosis cannot be given until symptoms have lasted for at least one month.

Daily exposure to trauma can take a toll and cause cumulative stress. Sometimes, a particular incident pierces your emotional defenses. Both ASD and PTSD are very personal responses to these sorts of traumatic events. Following a potentially traumatic incident, an entire department might appear to be coping adequately on the surface, but some maybe could be experiencing ASD symptoms.

Fire fighter out of uniform sitting on the couch with his hand to his temple

Symptoms of ASD

Symptoms of ASD may include intrusive thoughts about that one call, nightmares, dreams, negative mood-swings, difficulty experiencing happiness or feeling disconnected from others. If you’re suffering from ASD, you may avoid talking about the traumatic call or driving by the location of the call. You may be unable to remember some or all of the traumatic incident, which can also be accompanied by problems concentrating, irritability or difficulty sleeping. Symptoms of ASD can also interfere with work, relationships and even with the desire and ability to seek help.

Does ASD Predict PTSD?

If you experience ASD, it’s more likely you’ll develop PTSD. One study has found that 80 percent of people with ASD develop PTSD. However, not everyone who experiences ASD will develop PTSD. Conversely, you may not experience ASD but still develop PTSD later. Studies indicate that a small percentage (4-13 percent) of people who do not develop ASD in the first month after a traumatic experience will experience PTSD in the months or even years after the incident.

Getting Help

You may have your own support system through family or fellow fire fighters, and may be able to work through your symptoms with those people. But if the symptoms are severe, these support systems may not be enough. It’s vital to get help before ASD gets worse. The IAFF Center of Excellence offers a variety of programs to help treat any mental health disorder, including: cognitive behavioral health (CBT), group and family therapy, pharmaceutical therapy, and aftercare planning.

Fire fighter out of uniform sitting next to his wife while holding up a toddler at a park

It’s important to know the warning signs and talk to someone. You don’t have to battle mental health issues alone. Call the IAFF Center of Excellence to learn more about treatment options and support. Telephones are staffed around the clock with professionals who understand these issues and can help you get into a program that works best for you.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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