When Should a First Responder Reach Out for Help?

July 23, 2014

For first responders, job-related stress and strain can be off the charts. Police, fire and EMS personnel often see and do things most people cannot imagine. Repeatedly encountering dangerous situations can lead to PTSD, depression and eventually in some cases addictive behaviors and suicide.

Knowing when to seek help can be a difficult step in the healing process. While some first responders might feel they require treatment to resolve their issues, others might be in denial or unable to identify their own needs. Friends and family members often seek out advice and treatment before the affected officer or firefighter can truly confront their issues.

Here are some symptoms that could help identify potential PTSD sufferers:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Guilt, shame and self-blame
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of mistrust, betrayal and loneliness

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Sleep issues including insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches or other physical distress

And lastly, here are some signs and symptoms of alcohol or drug dependence that first responders and family members should look out for when deciding to seek treatment:

  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of Control
  • Desire to Stop – But Can’t
  • Neglecting Other Activities
  • Alcohol and Drugs Take Up Greater Time, Energy and Focus
  • Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

Resources are available for those who may be suffering and not know where to turn for help. Admitting there may be an issue is the first step. Talking to a supervisor or chaplain about these issues can also facilitate the healing process. To address the growing need for behavioral health support and resources, American Addiction Centers has created a program aimed at helping law enforcement officers and their families. This dedicated hotline is available at 1.855.99.POLICE (765423). Additionally, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) has launched Share the Load™, a support program for firefighters and EMS. As part of that program, the NVFC has partnered with American Addiction Centers to create the Fire/EMS Helpline, a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist firefighters, EMTs and their families. Callers receive compassionate, non-judgmental support for a variety of behavioral health issues, such as PTSD, addiction, depression, suicide prevention, stress or anxiety, critical incidents, relationship issues, or other issues affecting their work or personal life. The helpline is available at 1-888-731-FIRE (3473). Help is just a phone call away.

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