One of the many challenges firefighters and first responders face as a result of their public service is post traumatic stress disorder. It is estimated that 20% of firefighters in the United States suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to 3.5% of the general public. Unfortunately, this growing trend among firefighters seems to be on the rise. Furthermore, many firefighters fear to seek treatment for their PTSD.
Here are a few facts about PTSD among firefighters and first responders.
Firefighters struggle with job-related mental health issues
Although firefighters are responding to fewer fires, they are repeatedly responding to other emergencies where they are exposed to horrible scenes of tragedy, natural disaster and search and rescue operations. An International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) poll of 7,000 firefighters conducted in 2018 found that exposure to trauma has led to numerous mental health problems among firefighters. Nineteen percent of respondents indicated they had thoughts of suicide as a result of their job, while 27% admitted to substance abuse related to their job.
Repeated exposure to trauma leads to mental health issues
Last year, the U.S. Fire Administration published a study that examined the effects of repeated exposure to trauma on firefighters. According to the study, repeated exposure to traumatic events are a greater cause of mental health disorders like PTSD than one single event. The study also found that repeated exposure to trauma leads to desensitivity, irritability and flashbacks.
Unfortunately, firefighters often do not seek treatment for job-related mental health issues. The IAFF poll found that 81% of respondents were fearful of being seen as weak or unfit for duty if they sought mental health treatment. Another 71% said they have not used treatment services provided by their department.
The main takeaway from these studies is alarming. Firefighters are experiencing PTSD and other mental health issues associated with their jobs, but are not seeking treatment. PTSD and mental health issues among firefighters is now one of the greatest threats facing these brave public servants. While other issues like equipment and compensation remain at the forefront of issues affecting firefighters, the issue of mental health is one that requires further examination and public dialogue.
Care about the health and safety of Firefighters and EMTs? Read other articles from our Firefighter health series.