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The news channels, commercials, and social media often emphasize the crisis that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that plagues our veterans of the past and warfighters of the present, but how often does the PTSD among firefighters publicize? Although the media is beginning to recognize the importance of stress after traumatic events, the first responders rarely seem to get the attention needed to progress in treatment options and solutions. However, even though the spotlight is not always on the pivotal role of a firefighter, there are ways to address and treat the PTSD that is ever present in the first responder community. 

 

Detecting the Signs

 

Even though you may have moved on from one or even multiple traumatic events, PTSD symptoms may not be immediately apparent. It may even appear that you have mentally healed before the effects of a traumatic event begin to appear. The nature of PTSD makes it very hard to identify, and especially in the firefighting community, as many first responders do not seek treatment for the disorder. This places a special obligation to look out for fellow responders and to look for the signs that may indicate PTSD. If yourself or another firefighter begin to display signs of PTSD, it may be best to contact a professional for help. Some signs of PTSD include:

  • Invasive Memories- The event will often invade memories at seemingly random times. This can include nightmares during sleep and dreams or even flashbacks during awake hours.
  • Avoidance- Steering clear of anything relating to the event can be a natural reaction but going to extended lengths to avoid the topic can be a sign of PTSD. This can include avoiding conversations, places, and activities. Avoidance of people, in general, can also be a tell-tale sign of the disorder.
  • Behavior Changes and Mood Swings- Traumatic events can cause major changes in the normal behavior patterns in affected responders. Activities that used to entertain may no longer feel fun, and attitudes towards some things may change. Mood swings and outbursts are common among victims. The ability to maintain relationships are also affected by the changes brought about by PTSD. 

The signs of PTSD can be very difficult to detect but detecting the signs early can allow for proper treatment in a timely manner. This early detection can prevent many years of strife and could even prevent the disorder from getting worse.

No Retreat: Fighting Fires and PTSD

 

Even though victims of PTSD should take time to recover and receive treatment, the hard truth of the matter is that many firefighters will continue to work. Whether it may be attributed to the lack of being diagnosed or the fact that firefighters are a tough, ignorant breed. Regardless of the case, working with PTSD can be a dangerous game, and cautions should be taken if any signs of PTSD are shown. There are a few, but very important, things that can be done to minimize risk with PTSD while in the workplace.

The first and foremost step is to learn about the condition. Learning about PTSD can allow more control, and it is important to know about the disorder to identify potential symptoms. Conduct research, contact professionals, take personal notes on PTSD, and always keep findings related to your own situation.

Everyone is affected differently by PTSD, and likewise, the triggers of each person are totally different. Learning the things that may cause the symptoms to flare can allow for planning ahead of time, or even planned avoidance. Eliminating the triggers, or at least minimizing exposure to them, can allow for much more freedom from fear while working.

Firefighting is a wildcard job; as in, every situation is totally different. Learning the triggers and planning to minimize exposure to them is a very important step to working safely with PTSD, however, avoiding the triggers may not always be an option. Planning to deal with the situations where triggers are not avoidable is a must with firefighting. In office settings, avoidance is much easier as the setting is predictable. In firefighting, almost no situations turn out like what was guessed, and extra precautions must be taken. 

Finally, if the situations get out of control, and the symptoms begin to flare, have an exit plan. The dangers of working while under the duress of PTSD can endanger many lives, including those fellow first responders on the scene with you. It is a very important skill to be able to set aside ego and toughness in situations in which may be more dangerous due to PTSD symptoms. The exit plan needs to be flexible, and everyone will have their own idea of a proper exit plan. Some firefighters may need to leave the scene entirely, or others might need to swap to a less intensive role. Whatever the case may be, do what is necessary to prevent adding more danger to an already high danger situation.

 

If It Becomes Too Much, Take a Knee

 

Firefighters are the toughest dogs on the block, or at least, that is what the mentality in firefighting is. It may be hard to accept, but the mental stress of PTSD can become too much for any one person to bear. The symptoms of PTSD can affect even the mentally toughest first responder, and even though the stigma behind seeking help equating to lacking toughness may be present in your department, seeking help during mental duress is an important step to stopping long-term damage to the mind.

Taking time off the job allows for mental healing and is a good starting point to recovery. Time off may even be professionally recommended by doctors or therapists. Taking a knee and allowing time to relax can be what’s needed to bounce back to the top of the game.

If you do not believe that time off will be sufficient, seeking help with a professional recovery program may be an option. Programs like the Deer Hollow Trauma Recovery allow for healing guided by professionals. Programs may vary in length and density of sessions. For an example, Deer Hollow offers 35 hours per week of recovery classes and other group sessions using proven techniques and cutting-edge treatments. These group therapy sessions and classes allow for first responders to share their experiences in a variety of settings and allow for deeper healing. If professionally guided recovery sounds like something you may need, you can contact the Deer Hollow Trauma Recovery on their website to learn more. Another option could be the Roscrance Program

 

PTSD Can be Treated

 

While it may feel like the stress will be permanent, it is important to realize that PTSD can be treated and curved. The pain and symptoms of a traumatic event can be dealt with and the quality of life of those affected by PTSD can dramatically increase with treatment.

The condition can drive people to dramatic lengths and it is important to seek help for yourself, or for another if you detect the signs. Receiving treatment early can stop the permanent damage.

If you believe you or a fellow first responder may be considering harming themselves or suicide, please seek help. PTSD treatment is available, and the mental stress can be relieved.

 

Sources

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-symptoms-ptsd- WebMD page for symptoms of PTSD 

https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-your-ptsd-at-work-2797564- Ideas for dealing with PTSD in a work environment

https://deerhollowtraumarecovery.com/trauma-program/- Your website, needed for details on the recovery program offered

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamplugh is a fourth-generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (PA) Fire Company. He was the Chief Marketing Officer of 360 Wellness Inc/Premier Wellness Solutions and currently managing business development with Institute for Responder Wellness and Deer Hollow Recovery.. Lamplugh is also nationally recognized in Crisis Stress Intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Lamplugh hosts his own talk show called “Firefighter Wellness Radio” with Fire Engineering. Mark also published his first book “Marketing Playbook for Social Media” to basically help companies and Non-profits learn how to spread their message on social media.  He has helped thousands of firefighters, police officers, veterans, EMS personnel, and civilians nationwide find help for addiction, alcoholism, PTSD, and mental health support. Mark has been chosen as one of the Board of Directors at One World For Life (To head up Communication and the Health & Safety section). He can be reached for comment markl@deerhollowrecovery.com

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