John Rose Oak Bluff Speaks on The Importance of Prioritizing Early Screening and Intervention for PTSD in the Firefighting Community

John Rose Oak Bluff

Consistent exposure to traumatic incidents is acknowledged major risk factor that leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By the nature of their occupation, firefighters have increased exposure to such serious events regularly, making them at-risk groups to experience PTSD alongside anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, and substance abuse.  According to John Rose Oak Bluff, considering the increasing number of PTSD among firefighters, it is high time to prioritize early and expert intervention to alleviate the scary impact of PTSD on firefighters. 

Understanding PTSD

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) refers to a mental health condition that people may develop following experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. When it comes to firefighters, their daily exposure to stressful incidents like the destruction of fire, rescuing people trapped in fire, injuries, and casualties pose a major threat to their physical and emotional well-being. Some of the common symptoms found in victims of PTSD are feelings of numbness, shift in mode and approach, nightmares, etc. 

Factors Contributing to PTSD in firefighters

Several factors lead to PTSD in firefighters. Some of them are stated below 

  • Frequent exposure to trauma

Firefighters work amid life-and-death situations, toxic black smoke, injuries, and fatalities while they remain involved in controlling fire, saving people, and providing emergency medical services alongside paramedics. Over time, the persistent and regular exposure to such terrifying incidents takes a major toll on their emotional and mental well-being. 

  • High-stress levels

By nature, firefighting is inherently and extremely stressful. Taking fire in control needs quick decisions, which is mentally taxing because a second’s delayed decision or wrong decision-making can lead to major casualties with loss of lives and property. The overall toll on physical and mental health can result in chronic stress, which triggers PTSD.

  • Lack of sleep

The work schedule of firefights often involves erratic hours and long-term shifts. Deprived sleep can aggravate stress levels among firefighters and enhance the chance of developing PTSD.

  • Staffing crisis

Fire departments are facing a noteworthy shortage of staffing. Due to this, firefighters frequently need to work for 8-14 days non-stop without a day off. Consequently, firefighters also get deprived of spending weekends or valuable quality time with their loved ones.

The Significance of Early Screening: 

Early screening plays a major role in the process of identification of symptoms associated with PTSD before it worsens. According to John Rose Oak Bluff, regular assessments of emotional and mental health are likely to aid in faster recognition of signs of mental distress, shift of mode, numbness in responsiveness, etc. and accordingly offer them timely and necessary support. Rose also considers that screening initiatives need to be tailored considering the distinct symptoms of firefighters to ensure seamless and prompt intervention, thereby preventing the aggravation of PTSD and lessening its long-term consequences.

Effective Intervention Strategies:

Early intervention can be greatly beneficial to mitigate the symptoms in firefighters and make them resilient to encountering terrifying issues prevalent in the firefighting field. Having access to evidence-based therapies can be immensely helpful for individuals to process their traumatic experiences effectively while developing effective coping techniques under such situations. Some of these therapies include 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): As a type of psychotherapy, it can be helpful for victims to change their unhealthy or unproductive ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling. The uniqueness of CBT is that it adopts practical self-help strategies. Its approach can help firefighters by effectively treating depressed mental health and by improving their quality of life. 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): The EMDR) therapy is a very advanced mental health healing technique. This produce requires the victim to move their eyes in a specific way while enabling them to process traumatic memories. The objective of EMDR is to cure trauma and distressing experiences of life. Even though relatively new, however, it has been proven highly effective in dealing with PSTD
  • Other support systems: In addition to peer support network programs, counseling services, education, and awareness-building programs can change the misconception of being stigmatized. Moreover, this will facilitate by promoting an open and welcoming space for conversations about sharing personal feelings and emotional tolls, and fostering a supportive attitude can be instrumental in preventing PTSD. 

Having proactive action from fire departments, peers, senior or leading firefighters, and self can contribute to the firefighters getting rid of the lasting effects of PSTD. This will help them serve the community with full vigor, thrive in their profession, and enjoy a quality of family life.  

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