What Every Fire Fighter Should Know About PTSD

Author: IAFF Staff

June 4, 2018

The fact that your profession is one of the most dangerous and stressful occupations in the world isn’t news. Every day, you put yourself in harm’s way to help those in need. Exposure to trauma is a natural and unavoidable part of your work.

But many fire fighters and paramedics don’t discuss the details of their work with their families when they get home. Some are exposed to traumatic events year after year without any debriefing or counseling. Chances are, you’ve experienced a major traumatic event or know a coworker who has.

Signs of PTSD

To effectively deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you need to know the signs.

  •     Intrusive, recurring thoughts, images, memories or dreams of a traumatic incident
  •     Avoiding people, places and things associated with the traumatic incident
  •     Negative changes in mood and thinking, including persistent feelings of fear, guilt or self-blame
  •     Increased arousal or reactivity, irritability, sleep disturbances, poor concentration or hypervigilance
  •     Diminished interest in usual activities
  •     Sense of detachment from others or your surroundings

These symptoms can develop rapidly or take weeks or even years to appear.

What Can You Do?

We must address post-traumatic stress in the fire service. The first step may be to break down the stigma associated with asking for help. Fire departments need to approach the issue of mental health with openness and sensitivity. Regular screening for PTSD and other disorders may also help promote conversations so that discussing a traumatic event is no longer taboo.

Fire department staff and personnel can be trained to recognize the signs of PTSD. Preventative measures, such as education and outreach, may be effective because they teach you to recognize the symptoms. Fire departments should also ensure that you have access to mental health resources so you can seek help if you need it.

The Most Important Thing a Fire Fighter Needs to Know About PTSD

It’s okay to have an emotional reaction to a traumatic event and to talk about it with other fire fighters or with medical professionals who are educated to treat PTSD.

PTSD is a very real danger and can cause issues for a family, cause trouble at work or increase the risk of suicide. Many fire fighters think it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, but it’s okay to talk about your struggles. Remember, there is no shame in seeking treatment for PTSD and that it is a real issue that needs to be addressed. You don’t have to battle PTSD 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 and can help.

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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