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25% of First Responders Suffer From Depression, Many Others From PTSD, Suicide

A new study from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reveals that as many as 1 in 4 first responders, such as emergency medical technicians and firefighters, suffer from depression – at least in Arkansas.

Also, between 18-37% of first responders meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event or events, and symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and intrusive thoughts about the event.

Finally, it was found that the suicide rate among these brave souls is roughly 25 times higher than the rest of the population. Is it any wonder considering they face overdose deaths, disasters, and trauma on a regular basis?

Study organizer Sara Jones, psychiatric nurse practitioner, told Arkansas Public Media that there has been substantial research on PTSD and trauma among veterans and law enforcement, but it lacks among paramedics and firefighters.

Jones is especially interested in learning how people in these professions, especially men, perceive mental health treatment – a service that has historically faced stigma and incredulity:

“You’ll be looked at differently. Not only as a person, but also as someone you’re running into a fire with, that they might be concerned about how you are going to handle a situation or even about their own safety.”

However, there are slow but positive changes afoot. EMS chief Becky Stewart, also from Arkansas, said the following to NWA News:

“The culture is changing a little bit too. It used to be we’re macho. We put on our capes, and we go out there, and we save the world.”

Indeed, some departments, such as Stewart’s, now offer mental health services. She said that they provide “counseling and coaching by mental health professionals, behavioral specialists who are trained in emergency services.”

Jones says that she hopes her research will open up conversations and help identify ways to aid first responders in terms of coping with trauma:

“It’s showing that there’s a problem, but more importantly, something is going to be done about it.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

References

Pilot Study: Exploring the Mental Health Needs of First Responders in Arkansas

http://arkansaspublicmedia.org/post/uams-study-seeks-quantify-lasting-trauma-first-responders-injury-accidents-fires

http://www.nwahomepage.com/news/knwa/central-ems-working-to-help-first-responders-with-depression/810110021

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