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Firefighter Gear Lying on Truck

First Responders


First responder mental health statistics for firefighters, police officers and EMTs are by no means conclusive. However, definitive trends have emerged from studies that show that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse are more prevalent in first responders than in civilians who aren’t regularly in high-intensity situations.

TSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in those who’ve been a part of or witnessed a traumatic event, from witnessing a death to surviving a natural disaster. PTSD causes intense or disturbing thoughts and can greatly inhibit the quality of life if left untreated. The disorder affects approximately 3.5% of Americans; however, first responders are five times more likely to be affected simply due to their line of work. A recent study has concluded that 30% of first responders have experienced PTSD, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Another study has concluded that 69% of first responders have reported not having enough recovery time between traumatic events. Further research has suggested that of those first responders with PTSD, 20% have a substance abuse disorder.

Suicide is also particularly relevant in first responder mental health statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 47,500 people died from suicide in 2019. Also, according to the CDC, 12 million people had ideations of suicide, and 1.4 million attempted it. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Once again; these statistics may impact firefighters, EMTs and other first responders in a greater proportion than the general population. Recent study results reported by the CDC have suggested that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty. A recent study has concluded that 37% of firefighters and EMTs have seriously contemplated suicide. The CDC has reported that “even given the high number of suicides, these deaths among first responders are likely underreported. There are insufficient data on suicides and mental health issues among these workers.”

Far more work must be done to conduct studies, gather reliable data and provide

counselling for first responders. One problem is the stigma associated with reaching out for professional help. According to Kaiser Permanente, a recent study has concluded that 57% of first responders have feared negative repercussions for seeking help, while 47% have reported a fear of being demoted or fired. The data suggests many first responders “tough it out” rather than seek the help they need.

However, there are some encouraging data. More than 70% of first responders have said they’d be more likely to seek professional counselling if a leader in their organization spoke openly about their experience, and 80% said if a close colleague spoke up, they’d be more likely to seek help for themselves.

Given how severe and persistent mental health issues are in first responders, counsellors often see clients in such professions. However, treating first responders can be an imposing task. It takes a genuine understanding of the internal and external pressures to help clients express themselves honestly and pursue healthy habits, even in the face of the life-or-death situations they may face daily.

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