Eighty percent of first responders deal with traumatic events on a regular basis, and 30% of them will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD– that’s a rate 10% higher than the general population. PTSD is one of the biggest threats facing first responders, and unfortunately, it’s a mental disorder that often goes untreated. Despite the modern, more nuanced understanding of what the condition is, there is still a stigma against seeking help for PTSD in many communities. Today, we’re going to explore some of the unique challenges posed by PTSD and share some of the ways that therapy can help first responders who are suffering from PTSD.
Before we start, please remember that if you have PTSD, it isn’t your fault, and you aren’t weak for having it or for seeking treatment. PTSD doesn’t turn you into a monster– it just means that you need extra support, and there’s no shame in needing that. First responders do so much for their communities, and they deserve to be supported in turn. You dedicate your life to helping others– there’s nothing wrong with needing some help yourself.
The Unique Challenges of PTSD
PTSD has a range of symptoms that can profoundly affect those affected. Intrusive symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts, can abruptly and vividly rekindle the traumatic event, causing immense distress and making it hard to function. Those with PTSD often engage in extensive avoidance behaviors, steering clear of anything reminiscent of the trauma, resulting in social withdrawal and isolation. Hyperarousal is also prevalent. PTSD can make you feel constantly unsafe and leave you in a state of high alert and distress. Without the ability to calm down and feel safe again, people with PTSD often experience heightened irritability, difficulty sleeping, and challenges in concentration, leading to anger issues.
Furthermore, PTSD can trigger negative changes in your thoughts and mood, altering thought patterns, self-perception, and relationships with the world, often resulting in a pessimistic outlook and difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships. Emotional dysregulation is a common challenge for people with PTSD. This can manifest as intense mood swings, struggles with emotional numbness, and difficulty managing anger or sadness. All of these challenges can make it difficult to maintain relationships, as well as your ability to function in various spheres, including work and daily activities. Additionally, individuals with PTSD might face increased risks of physical health problems due to chronic stress and disrupted sleep.
Self-Stigma in PTSD
Another major issue with PTSD is the idea of self-stigma. This is one of the largest barriers to treatment and is something that many first responders with PTSD have to deal with. Self-stigma in PTSD refers to the internalized negative attitudes, beliefs, and feelings that individuals with PTSD may develop about themselves due to societal or cultural stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions.
Self-stigma involves the internalization of social prejudices and stereotypes related to PTSD, leading individuals to perceive themselves negatively due to their condition. People experiencing self-stigma may start to believe they are weak, flawed, or different from others because of their PTSD. This can lead to a sense of shame, reduced self-esteem, and reluctance to seek help or disclose their condition to others.
Self-stigma can significantly impact a person’s mental health, self-perception, and willingness to access treatment or support. Overcoming self-stigma involves addressing and challenging these negative beliefs, promoting self-compassion, and understanding that PTSD is a response to traumatic experiences rather than a personal weakness. Seeking therapy, support groups, and educating oneself about PTSD can also help in reducing self-stigma and fostering a more positive self-perception
How Therapy Can Help
Therapy is one of the best solutions for first responders grappling with PTSD. These professionals routinely encounter traumatic situations as part of their occupation, resulting in substantial emotional and psychological strain. Various therapeutic approaches exist to aid in their recovery and management of PTSD symptoms, and a good therapist can help you figure out what type of therapy works best for you.
Trauma-focused therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) effectively treat PTSD by assisting individuals in processing traumatic memories and reducing avoidance behaviors associated with the trauma. These types of therapies can help you reframe your trauma and let you identify and challenge negative thought patterns related to the traumatic event. Eventually, you’ll be able to alter these patterns to change emotional responses and behaviors. Exposure therapy offers gradual and controlled exposure to trauma-related stimuli in a safe environment to reduce fear and anxiety associated with triggers. Additionally, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are taught to help manage stress and improve emotional regulation.
Therapy doesn’t have to be a solo experience, and some people do better with additional support from those with shared experiences. Group therapy and peer support among individuals who have shared similar experiences provide a sense of belonging and validation, while family therapy involves relatives in understanding and supporting the affected individual. Therapists can help you with resilience building, developing coping skills, and creating adaptive strategies to manage stress in high-pressure environments. They will also consider the specific stressors and culture within your profession. They don’t just want to help you with your PTSD symptoms– they want to help you manage and heal while continuing your crucial role, if that’s what you want.
Additionally, just learning about PTSD and how it impacts first responders can help you understand what’s happening and why. This can help you develop effective coping mechanisms and diminish the stigma associated with seeking treatment.
Getting Help with PTSD
If you’re a first responder with symptoms of PTSD, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Wanting to heal from PTSD is a sign of strength, and the healing process can be a challenge. But with support and time, you can overcome PTSD. If you or someone you love may be dealing with PTSD, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with one of our therapists and get the support you need through this healing journey.