Will we be able to create prevention programs for firefighters that will limit the harmful effects of PTSD. Modern day psychologists are urgently studying ways to make prevention of PTSD a viable option for first responders.
The impact of Post traumatic Stress Disorder has devastating effects on emergency responders from around the world. In 2017, more firefighters died from suicide then from any other factor in the fire service in the United States. A large factor of those deaths was PTSD and maladaptive coping skills in firefighters. Firefighters are extremely vulnerable to a multitude of mental health issues like PTSD, depression, sleep difficulties, addiction, divorce, and suicide. A recent study showed the estimated prevalence of PTSD in fire and emergency service workers is 17-22% compared to a lifetime prevalence of 1-8% in the general population . Unfortunately, most help programs are based in a past-tense forum meaning firefighters are only getting treated after traumatic events have occurred and the damage has already been experienced.
What if there was a way to prevent PTSD through education before the firefighter has been traumatized?
“A recent study showed the estimated prevalence of PTSD in fire and emergency service workers is 17-22% compared to a lifetime prevalence of 1-8% in the general population .”
Across the globe researchers and psychologists are studying ways to educate first responders to lessen the impact of traumatic events on their lives. These programs focus on daily mental health exercises, response control during traumatic events, help seeking behaviors, and building support groups. Utilizing the knowledge that is coming from these studies peer support groups could have another avenue to positively affect their fellow firefighters in the near future.
Mental Agility and Psychological Strength
One study was completed over the course of a year for firefighters in Western Australia. The study called, “Mental Agility and Psychological Strength” or MAPS, utilized a systematic grassroots training program on new recruits to see how they would handle future traumatic incidents . The fire academy class was given instruction on how to handle traumatic events utilizing the latest information available on PTSD. Unfortunately, the fire academy only allowed the psychologists to utilize four hours for training and the original program was built for eight hours. After analyzing how the recruits adapted to traumatic events during their first year on the job the results were minimal.
Building a Program
“ The truly exceptional teams will find ways to build strong support systems at the station as well as at home .”
As the fire service advances in their understanding and acceptance of mental health issues these programs will become an important part of any training program. We seem to be in a pivotal moment in the understanding and acceptance of mental health illness for first responders. Peer support teams must begin to ask how can we start to build a culture that will treat mental health illness with the same vigor as physical wellness. The truly exceptional teams will find ways to build strong support systems at the station as well as at home. They will push new policies that will direct care and treatment of firefighters that are exposed to traumatic events on the job. Finally, they will educate firefighters that mental health illness is not a weakness but a sickness that can be treated like any other illness.
1. Skeffington PM, Rees CS, Mazzucchelli TG, Kane RT (2016) The Primary Prevention of
PTSD in Firefighters: Preliminary Results of an RCT with 12-Month Follow-Up. PLoS ONE 11(7):e0155873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155873