PTSD in first responders can be prevented

PTSD can be treated, but symptoms need to be identified early.

When a first responder experiences a traumatic event beyond the scope of typical human experience, they may feel threatened or have feelings of helplessness, fear, or disgust.  Although it can feel overwhelming, PTSD is treatable.

But to prevent it, it needs to be identified early.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Clive Derbyshire, a paramedic who suffers from PTSD still sees hope.

Two of the most significant obstacles to people receiving adequate treatment for PTSD are under-reporting of trauma by survivors due to fear of being stigmatized and under-recognition of trauma symptoms by health care providers or by the survivors themselves.

The following are some of the symptoms that may indicate a post-traumatic stress injury:

  • Aggressive, reckless, or self-destructive behaviour
  • Dissociation from the self (this can include reduced awareness of one’s surroundings, amnesia or numbed emotions)
  • Inability to remember key aspects of the traumatic event
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event (nightmares, spontaneous memories, flashbacks)
  • Sleep disturbances and changes in sleep patterns
  • Suicidal behaviours
  • Social isolation and loss of interest  in activities
  • Reluctance to seek help due to fear of stigmatization
  • Blaming self or others due to a distorted sense of reality
  • Substance abuse

Some of the factors that have been found to contribute towards improved recovery or greater resiliency against PTSD are actions that reinforce feelings of support, hope and sense of control. Some of these include:

  • Peer support and a strong sense of community: Feelings of belonging and strong emotional connections can help prevent PTSD
  • Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD): A debriefing process used by emergency services in the aftermath of a significant traumatic event to foster recovery through group dialogue.
  • Positive coping strategies:   Constructive stress management approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), can help first responders build resilience against traumatic experiences as well as treat trauma symptoms after the fact.
What you can do to help

If you’re wondering how you can help but don’t know how here are some suggestions:

  • You can support organizations that support people with PTSD (see the list of resources below) and are dedicated to raising awareness and supporting first responders and their families.
  • You can push for change in your own community by asking your lawmakers for improvements in legislation when it comes to how we respond to workplace insurance claims for first responders.

    Right now some provinces provide “Presumptive Clause” legislation (see more here). But in provinces that don’t have such legislation, first responders often don't receive the treatment and support they need.

MORE: Top 10 Ways to Help Someone You Care About With PTSD

  • People can fight the stigma around mental health and PTSD by talking openly about mental health and being conscious of language. If you hear someone saying derogatory or negative comments about mental health or addiction, correct them and point out how what they are saying can be damaging. Even if this helps one person adjust their attitude, it is worth it.
More About PTSD From CBC Docs

PTSD: Beyond Trauma
Most people experience trauma at least once. For many, the memories fade with time. But for some, they make it impossible to move beyond trauma.

Lost on Arrival: Me, the Mounties & PTSD
An intimate portrait of the toll PTSD takes on a reporter and his family.

PTSD: Canada Has The Highest Rate, Plus Eight More Surprising Facts

PTSD: Self Care Tips for Victims and Their Family

Additional Resources

Badge of Life Canada
An organization and website for PTSD and trauma survivors

Canadian Mental Health Association
The CMHA facilitates access to the resources people require to maintain and improve mental health and community integration, build resilience, and support recovery from mental illness.

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP)
Group dedicated to providing information and resources to reduce the suicide rate and minimize the harmful consequences of suicidal behaviour.

Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP)
A branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Centre for Suicide Prevention is a non-profit education centre, established in 1981.

In response to a spike in First Responder suicides, the #IVEGOTYOURBACK911 campaign was developed to bring awareness to emergency First Responder mental health.

The Tema Conter Memorial Trust
A website which is “a hub of research, training and education dealing with PTSD and operational stress injuries”.

You Are Not Alone PTSD BC
A grassroots, website and support group dedicated to helping others who have PTSD.