First Responder Wellness

First Responder Wellness

Almost all First Responders are exposed to events and situations that could lead to PTSD.  Awareness of these events and possible cumulative effects is the first step in safeguarding our First Responders and plays a vital role in designing an effective culture of wellness.  But, there is another vital step to consider.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is officially diagnosed after a person experiences certain symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However, symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later. This time lag from exposure to symptoms often causes the exposed individual—as well as his/her supervisors—to unintentionally ignore the true cause and, in some cases, to attribute job performance issues to character defects. 

The disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.

The criteria for diagnosis is listed below.

Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic events 
  • Witnessing, in person, the traumatic events
  • Learning that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend; cases of actual or threatened death must have been violent or accidental
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic events (Examples are first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). Note: This does not apply to exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless exposure is work-related.

The presence of one or more of the following:

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events 
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events 
  • Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring 
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events.

Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events of external reminders. Two or more of the following:

  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”). 
  • Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions.

Two or more of the following marked changes in arousal and reactivity:

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep
  • Clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, or alcohol or another medical condition, such as traumatic brain injury.

A Significant and Worrisome Gap

There is no question that identifying the symptoms noted above is an important part in the process of seeking help.  But this may not even be the first step.  First Responders don’t always admit when they need help.  Interestingly, in testing over 15,000 First Responders during the past 35 years, we have discovered that there are several personality styles common to these employees that reveal a lack of awareness of their own needs and feelings.  Adding to this are the very cultures of Police and Fire which play a significant role in shaping the display of emotional stoicism, the valuing physical prowess, and the rejection of emotional reactions as being legitimate.  For some, the request for help can be very difficult.  Thus, some Officers suffer as do those around them, both professionally and personally.

We Must Seek Early Warning Mechanisms Rather Than Waiting on Self-Referral   

As leaders, you need real time information.  You do not want to be caught off guard!  We have designed an early warning system that displays the potential stress level of your First Responders.  This may provide you with career saving/life-saving choices.   

Like baseball analytics, the proper data gives you a glimpse of what may take place at a future time and creates a “call to action.”   

No doubt, you utilize some form of analytics.  You can get your hands on average response times, calls for service, call dispositions, and other important data.  But the sources of this data are often scattered and less accessible.  And when data is difficult to access, it often goes un-accessed.  Oftentimes a key component is missed in early identification. Our analytics identifies and communicates when a specific response threshold is met.  Sometimes first-responders need to be encouraged to seek help.  Our analytics platform can help do that.  We have specific approaches for addressing PTSD and a real-time customized Officer Wellness Dashboard that serves as an early warning.

If you would like more information about this give us a call. We look forward to talking with you and answering any question you might have.


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