When we think of emergency personnel, a number comes to mind. 1st on the scene, 1st to respond, 1st line of defense. These number ones reflect the vital roles played by police, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. Seen as figures of authority, strength, and bravery in our communities, our first responders can seem invincible.
Unfortunately, as we have come to understand, there is more to the story of these brave men and women. Along with these 1st numbers come another set of numbers that paints a disconcerting picture.
Statistics on EMS and Trauma
According to a new survey commissioned by the University of Phoenix, the numbers for these heroes tell a different story.
- 51% of first responders report participating in pre-trauma mental health training
- 80% of firefighters report being exposed to a traumatic event
- 90+% of police and EMTs report exposure to trauma
- 49% of first responders were offered "Psychological First Aid" after traumatic events
- 85% of first responders experienced symptoms related to mental health issues
Clearly, these numbers are both high and alarming, but the consequences don't stop here.
EMS and PTSD
One of the most common mental health disorders triggered by trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or post-traumatic stress related conditions. This Refuge report notes that, "The lifetime risk for developing PTSD in US adults is 3.5%. ". Meanwhile, the previously referenced survey noted that 34% of EMS personnel report being formally diagnosed with PTSD, roughly ten times the rate of the general population.
PTSD is marked by unusually strong, and often difficult to control, feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, or shock. These symptoms create significant difficulty in conducting standard daily activities. Common co-occurring conditions also include:
- Alcoholism or substance addiction
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
- Adjustment disorders
- Depression or bipolar disorder
The consequences of leaving these serious mental health issues untreated are serious. Many people experience significant impacts on their personal lives, family interactions, and work. Incomes and emotions are impacted when day-to-day activities are impeded, taking these former number one performers out of the lineup and putting them on the bench. In addition to daily changes, EMS personnel suffering from traumatic stress may also be at risk of physical harm. There are serious risks associated with substance abuse as well as impulsive behavior caused by traumatic stress disorders that can lead to physical injury or even death.
As reported in this NPR article, Florida has recently taken steps to better address the emotional and financial needs of first responders suffering from PTSD. They join roughly one-third of other states in the nation to provide such coverage. We can only hope that the other two-thirds of states will also join in providing this level of coverage to our No. 1 community servants.
At Graham Medical, makers of the MegaMover® transport unit, we are very concerned about the health and well-being of our nation's EMS professionals and other first responder professionals and are proud to be able to support them with our quality products.