In recent years, awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has increased dramatically within Public Safety. Unfortunately, understanding the effects of repeated exposure to trauma - as opposed to the impact of isolated traumatic events characteristic of traditional PTSD diagnoses - has lagged. Because many Public Safety employees experience multiple traumatic events throughout the course of their careers, the impact of repeated exposure can have serious implications.
Repeated trauma is inherent in this field of work. Over the course of a typical day, Public Safety officials may respond to a broad range of emergency situations. Some of these calls involve trauma, including fatal fires, car accidents, deceased children and suicide attempts. Repeated exposure to trauma can have numerous negative psychological impacts like irritability, flashbacks, desensitization to traumatic events and PTSD.
By acknowledging the reality of cumulative trauma and seeking professional treatment when necessary, Public Safety employees can learn to manage the impact of cumulative trauma. Working in Public Safety, we realize that there will be good and bad days. While traumatic events may involve direct exposure to death, life-threatening conditions or actual or threatened injury, they can also involve indirect exposure to another's trauma. This indirect trauma is what can take a toll.
If you are coping with signs of post-traumatic stress or PTSD, talk to your doctor and get a referral for a licensed mental health professional to receive a diagnostic assessment. Some overlooked signs of trauma are:
- Trouble concentrating caused by intrusive thoughts, memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
- Becoming easily irritable or agitated.
- Having an overall feeling of numbness or detachment from others.
- Avoiding people or places that remind you of the traumatic event.
The stress and life difficulties that can come from living with PTSD can place a person at greater risk for turning to drugs or alcohol to numb, repress, or cope. Here is a link to some resources on treating PTSD in addiction recovery: Treating PTSD In Addiction Recovery: Treatment Options And Resources (arkbh.com).
While awareness of PTSD continues to increase, clinical depression in Public Safety is less recognized, understood and discussed. Major Depressive Disorder is a serious debilitating mood disorder. It is characterized by recurring major depressive episodes, which is a period of two or more weeks in which five of the seven symptoms listed below are present for most of the day, almost every day. Symptoms must included one of the first two symptoms listed to be considered a major depressive episode.
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in most or all activities.
- Significant decrease or increase in weight or appetite when not dieting.
- Being physically slowed down or restless, as observed by others.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive, inappropriate guilt.
- Diminished ability to think, concentrate or make decisions.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation with or without a specific plan or a suicide attempt.