Anyone can become a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but first responders like veterans, fire-fighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and other rescue persons, who have not-so-easy jobs, are routinely exposed to traumatic and distressing situations. The high-risk jobs of military and emergency personnel makes them more susceptible to develop post-traumatic stress, regardless of their specialized training.
The continued vulnerability of these heroes to lethal and dangerous circumstances, the physical stress of long working hours with little or no sleep, and their frequent exposure to traumatic events can induce a cluster of mental health conditions, including acute stress disorder and PTSD. While acute stress symptoms typically dissipate within a period of a month, symptoms of PTSD are usually felt after one to three months or several years after encountering a traumatic incident.
In addition to the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, the condition may also exaggerate the risk of substance abuse and addiction as first responders may drink alcohol or take drugs to cope with their stress. Although drugs and alcohol may provide these individuals with some temporary relief, symptoms of stress and PTSD gradually worsen as the effects of the substances weaken.
The Freeze Response in PTSD
PTSD, sometimes known as “shell shock,” appears when a person encounters or witnesses a serious trauma or deadly incident. Although it is normal to be in a state of shock after such an incident, an ordinary reaction can turn into PTSD when a person’s brain or nervous system “freezes” or immobilizes.
The Nervous System Reacts to Stressful Events in Two Reflexive Manners:
When first responders survives or witnesses a dangerous or life-threatening circumstance, the immediate response is increased pulse rate, high blood pressure, and heightened strength; however, the body returns to a normal state once the danger passes.
Can occur when first responders encounter a traumatic situation but feel “stuck” post-trauma, it can be difficult to return to a normal state and contribute to the development of PTSD.
Immobilization, or the freeze response, can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope and leaves them paralyzed with fear. “And that immobilization reaction, although very adaptive for reptiles, is potentially lethal for mammals. If a life threat triggers a biobehavioral response that puts a human into this state, it may be very difficult to reorganize to become “normal” again,” said Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering and director of the Brain Body Center at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in a teleseminar session.
Recognizing PTSD Symptoms in First Responders
It is common for people to experience stress shortly after a traumatic incident. Yet, the persistence of these symptoms for more than a month may hint towards the problem of PTSD.
PTSD symptoms include:
• Eluding or avoiding:
Any situation, place that may refresh one’s memory of the traumatic incident or avoiding the crowds with a fear of something dangerous.
Exhibit>ed by faster heart rate, high blood pressure and breathing, along with anxiety, anguish, despair and physical stress and an inability to sleep.
Flashbacks, bad dreams or experiences, hallucinations and other invasive reflections and recollections.
Dealing with PTSD
While the symptoms of PTSD can be difficult to deal with, this condition can be managed with timely intervention. There are many evidence-based treatment methods that can help addresses both PTSD and SUD, often known as dual diagnosis.
Treatments may involve:
- Individual or Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Specialized psychological therapies for PTSD, namely Prolonged Exposure (PE) or Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Pharmacological interventions including antidepressants
- Physiological therapies such as yoga, music therapy, art therapy or mindfulness exercises
Get Timely Treatment
PTSD is a mental illness that can happen to any person from any age group, race, gender or culture. An estimated 7.7 million American population aged 18 years and above is diagnosed with PTSD every year, as reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). While it is fortunate if a person recovers from such trauma by himself, when the traumatic situations manifest as flashbacks and hallucinations, it can significantly affect one’s routine life for several months and even years, and professional help may be necessary.
It is important to understand that PTSD does not mean weakness. Recovering from PTSD and substance use disorders requires the support of mental health professionals, supportive friends and family members.
Treatment for Veterans and First Responders at AKUA
At AKUA Mind & Body, our clinical team understands that focusing solely on mental health can help one recover from their life-estranging mental problems. We offer a specialized program for men and women who are veterans and first responders and have experienced trauma, mental health issues and substance abuse in Sacramento, CA.
AKUA’s First Responders Treatment Program is holistic and includes evidence-based trauma therapies, including eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, brainspotting and others. To learn more about the First Responders Program, call our 24/7 helpline.