One of the most rewarding aspects of a career in Emergency Medical Services is that you are put into situations where you can and will save lives. The most obvious cases like performing CPR or treating gunshot wounds often overshadow the routine daily tasks that also save lives. Things like your response time, patient assessments, and making sure that your rig is properly equipped are some of the basic tasks that ensure you are not forced into an emergency situation to begin with.
The likelihood that you will experience a traumatic event in EMS is high. In fact, around 80% of all first responders experienced an event described as traumatic in 2021. Thus, the likelihood that you will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a first responder is much higher than that of the general population. Let’s take a look at some of the main symptoms of PTSD and how to address them.
PTSD is best described as a mental condition triggered by a terrifying event that you either witnessed or experienced. In EMS this can be an everyday occurrence. Symptoms can start as soon as a few days after the event, but sometimes will not manifest for years. These symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding the event, experiencing negative mood changes, and changes in your physical or emotional reactions. It’s important to understand that these reactions are normal and for most people they will start to go away within a few weeks or months. For more detail on these symptoms please visit the Mayo Clinic.
For some people the effects will last longer, and this is when some form of treatment is necessary. Oftentimes in an environment like EMS it can be difficult for people to discuss the issues the traumatic experience is causing them. One of the biggest problems is the stigma surrounding mental issues. EMS workers can feel that their job is in jeopardy if they disclose their feelings, or even be perceived as being weak by their colleagues. This is why some agencies have incorporated a PTSD test to be performed annually during physical fitness tests. If you would like to see how you rank take this quick online PTSD test from Clinical Partners.
The treatment options for PTSD range from medications to trauma-focused therapy. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) will teach you skills to understand how the trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique that encourages you to focus on hand movements or sounds while you talk about the traumatic experiences to help your brain process them. In Prolonged Exposure or (PE) you will talk about the incident repeatedly until the memories are no longer upsetting. The latest trend is called Biometric Telehealth and is an advanced technology aimed to help first responders via a remote treatment platform that creates an immersive experience between the patient and practitioner. The nice thing about this is that it’s easily accessible and cheaper than traditional options.
With all of these resources at hand it is crucial that we assess ourselves to determine if help is needed before any PTSD symptoms worsen. Society demands a lot from EMS workers, and in order to perform our job successfully we need to start putting our mental health first. Remember that if you are experiencing severe PTSD symptoms you are not alone, and that there is quality and confidential help available when you need it.