Health and Wellness

Firefighters and PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD can result from personally experienced traumas (e.g., rape, war, natural disasters, abuse, serious accidents, and captivity) or from the witnessing or learning of a violent or tragic event.

  • While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions.
  • People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event.
  • PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.

imageWhat are the symptoms?

Although the symptoms for individuals with PTSD can vary considerably, they generally fall into three categories:

  • Re-experience

    – Individuals with PTSD often experience recurrent and intrusive recollections of and/or nightmares about the stressful event. Some may experience flashbacks, hallucinations, or other vivid feelings of the event happening again. Others experience great psychological or physiological distress when certain things (objects, situations, etc.) remind them of the event.

  • Avoidance

    – Many with PTSD will persistently avoid things that remind them of the traumatic event. This can result in avoiding everything from thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the incident to activities, places, or people that cause them to recall the event. In others there may be a general lack of responsiveness signaled by an inability to recall aspects of the trauma, a decreased interest in formerly important activities, a feeling of detachment from others, a limited range of emotion, and/or feelings of hopelessness about the future.

  • Increased arousal

    – Symptoms in this area may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, becoming very alert or watchful, and/or jumpiness or being easily startled.

It is important to note that those with PTSD often use alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate. Individuals with this disorder may also be at an increased risk for suicide.image

Risk Factors for Firefighters

A few studies have also looked at what factors might put firefighters at greater risk for the development of PTSD. A number of risk factors for PTSD among firefighters have been identified. These include:

  • Being previously in treatment for another disorder.
  • Starting work as a firefighter at a younger age.
  • Being unmarried
  • Holding a supervisory rank in the fire service.
  • Proximity to death during a traumatic event.
  • Experiencing feelings of fear and horror during a traumatic event.
  • Experiencing another stressful event (for example, loss of a loved one) after a traumatic event.
  • Holding negative beliefs about oneself (for example, feeling as though you are inadequate or weak).
  • Feeling as though you have little control over your life.image

Protective Factors for Firefighters

  • Even though firefighters might be at high risk for stress as a result of their jobs, it is important to point out that most firefighters will not develop PTSD. In fact, several factors have been identified that may reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD among firefighters after the experience of multiple traumatic events.
  • One of the most important protective factors found was having social support available either at home or through work.
  • In addition, it has also been found that having effective coping strategies available may lessen the impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.
  • This is not surprising in that, among people in general, the availability of social support and effective coping strategies have consistently been found to reduce the risk for developing PTSD following a traumatic event.

For Information on Treatment Please visit FireStrong.org

To learn what Fire Strong is all about check out their introduction here