Sadly, first responders, especially in some of America’s most populated metropolitan areas, are no strangers to tragedies and crisis events. These events may include individual or mass violence, medical emergencies, challenges to law and order, large-scale disasters that are natural or human induced, terrorism, and even warfare. Communities may experience emergencies that result in either 1) physical destruction, or 2) injury to, and/or loss of, human life. Of course, emergencies may involve both defining characteristics. They may serve to challenge, but do not exceed local emergency response capabilities (e.g., fire, emergency medical services, or law enforcement). Communities may also experience larger scale disasters, differentiated from emergencies largely by the magnitude of their impact; and typically, may be thought of as events that result in a high magnitude of either physical destruction, and/or injury to, and/or loss of, human life. Disasters cause disruption to social cohesion or community function, and by definition, exceed local emergency response capabilities.
A complete and effective response to emergencies or disasters must include some type of mental health component. It has been estimated that about 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives, according to the National PTSD Center. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury. Of course, in the various professions of first responders, exposure to these types of traumatic incidents are certainly not gender-specific, and the percentage of individuals in those professions who are exposed to a traumatic event is well over the 50-60% national average.
Here is one point that must be made at the onset: Exposure to a traumatic event does not mean that one must develop PTSD. Acute reactions to traumatic stress are absolutely normal, but the fact is that even among combat veterans, and even among those living closest to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, the number who can be officially diagnosed as having PTSD is perhaps as low as 12-15%. That does not mean, however, that individuals exposed to trauma are not at risk for suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
One of the reasons our #CallForBackup program exists is to explain the normal reactions that we have to both chronic and traumatic stress, and to provide some words of advice, encouragement, aid in the recovery of anyone recently exposed to a crisis event, and to offer some tips on building resilience in preparation for some future, as yet unforeseen event.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have, whether you are struggling with the stresses of the job, or want to find out about bringing any of our training programs to your area. If you are in crisis now and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK, or text the keyword BADGE to 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.
It’s time to call for backup.