Reducing and Treating PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression as a First Responder
Date:Wednesday February 3, 2021
Your level of job stress may feel like it is no worse than your colleagues, since you all handle many potentially traumatic events every time you show up for your shift. Yes, your work is meaningful, but perhaps you’ve noticed that you feel very run down or like you dread your work after particularly bad experiences. It can be hard to know who to talk to, especially when you don’t hear anyone else talking about how these experiences impact their lives.
There are compelling reasons not to sweep these feelings and experiences under the rug. Even if you feel like you are holding up fairly well, your colleagues benefit from seeing their first responder friends getting mental health counseling and other services when traumatic incidents occur. If you recognize symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression in yourself or in colleagues, it is absolutely worthwhile to seek assistance.
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can build over time and eventually impact daily life to the point where working as a first responder is no longer sustainable. Similarly, anxiety and depression, when left untreated, make it harder to do your job well and can steal the joy you deserve for your role in helping others. Looking into options for talking about your experiences and potentially receiving other treatment for these conditions is just as important to your continued success as if you needed treatment for a physical injury like a broken leg.
Ways you Can Help Yourself and Fellow First Responders:
- Be vocal about past experiences of seeking assistance: If you’ve had a debrief about a traumatic incident, found antidepressant medication helpful, or regularly talk to a first-responder-competent therapist, mentioning these experiences to your colleagues can empower them. While you are certainly not required to talk about such experiences beyond your comfort level, reducing stigma about seeking help can actually save your colleagues’ lives. PTSD, anxiety, and depression happen frequently among first responders, and we all benefit from bringing those rates down.
- Fight for policies and procedures that grant rest and recovery for those experiencing unusual trauma: Throwing a first responder who is going through recovery from a traumatic experience back into the fray may make their PTSD symptoms worse, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Talk about how your agency can support those who are experiencing unusual trauma better, using the evidence-based practices that many first responders are implementing around the country.
- Take time to maintain balance in your life, especially when you’re in a leadership role: Your team looks up to you, even if you are only a little more experienced than they are. If you show yourself to need and take rest and recovery time, in addition to particular treatments for mental health concerns, they feel more empowered to do so as well. Make it part of what makes you strong and able to sustain a career in a first responder field.
- SAMHSA has a variety of valuable resources, like this one, showing that the trauma experienced by first responders is real and merits treatment and resources.
- The COVID-19 crisis has prompted some thoughtful conversations, like this one, about how to make mental health services fit the culture and needs of first responders.
- The Psychology Today Find a Therapist tool can help with finding a local set of options for your team. You can also specifically find practices that offer first-responder-centric therapy; they may not be local to you, but more therapists than ever are offering teletherapy options that may be relevant for your team.