At First Responder Wellness we have renamed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as “Post Traumatic Stress Injury.” For First Responders, the thought of having a “disorder” can feel like a weakness and is often unrelatable. First responders are accustomed to sustaining injuries, and most injuries can heal. Post-Traumatic Stress is a brain injury and we can help you heal that injury.
In life, we all experience ups and downs, from relationship problems and everyday struggles to health concerns or the loss of a loved one. While these situations are certainly hard to deal with, we’re usually able to handle them and move on the best we can. Sometimes we encounter things that are more difficult to cope with, however, such as violence, abuse, assault and death.
As a first responder, you’ve had more than your fair share of traumatic experiences and, as a result, are at greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress than the average person. PTSI can turn your life upside down and cause ongoing feelings of fear, anxiety and stress, but many people try to mask their feelings and move on without addressing them. Over time, this can take a toll on your mental and physical health but learning how to cope with trauma can help you overcome the symptoms of PTSI and greatly improve the quality of your life.
How Are Alcohol Use, Substance Use and PTSI Related?
Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can have a lasting impact on an individual, with symptoms that can linger for months or even years if they aren’t properly addressed. Many people, especially first responders, tend to push down their feelings and carry on as usual, even though they may be struggling to process high levels of stress, fear, guilt and grief. In response, the brain sends out distress signals that create emotional, physical and psychological symptoms that can negatively impact your overall health, concentration, emotional regulation and more. In an effort to cope, many self-medicate with alcohol or other substances, with studies showing that almost half of those with PTSD (46.4 percent) also have a substance use disorder. While alcohol or other substances offer temporary relief, symptoms often worsen as addiction takes hold and coping becomes even more difficult.
What is PTSI?
PTSI is an anxiety disorder that usually develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Often associated with the violence of war, PTSD was previously known as “battle Fatigue” during World War I and as “shell shock” during World War II and the Korean Conflict, and was thought to affect mostly veterans, but the condition can impact anyone after a natural disaster, serious accident, physical or sexual assault, abuse and other distressing or life-threatening experiences — all of which many first responders are exposed to regularly. What each person finds traumatic varies and PTSI can manifest in different ways, so it is often defined by its symptoms, which are grouped into four distinct categories:
- Intrusive thoughts — Involuntary, recurrent thoughts regarding the traumatic event, and a resurgence of related feelings or memories. May include vivid dreams or nightmares and flashbacks.
- Avoidance — Avoiding places, people, activities and other stimuli that may be triggering or act as a reminder of the trauma. Isolation from friends and family, detachment or disassociation, and resistance to seeking help are common.
- Hyperarousal/reactivity — Feeling on edge, irritable, angry or jumpy. Intense emotions, exaggerated startle reactions and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate may also be present.
- Negative thoughts — Feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts and distorted feelings related to the traumatic event, which often includes guilt, shame and self-blame.
When someone is diagnosed with PTSI, they exhibit symptoms from each of these categories, with numerous combinations and patterns depending on each individual’s experience. Other concerns may also occur alongside PTSI, such as increased alcohol use or substance use, complicating the situation and making it difficult to overcome without professional help.
Treating Post Traumatic Stress Injury at First Responder Wellness
At First Responder Wellness, we understand the complex relationship between PTSI and the role it plays in your life as law enforcement, EMT’s, firefighters, dispatch, corrections or other first responder and public safety professionals. The experiences of trauma run deep and can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health, sometimes leading to self-defeating behaviors that develop as a way to cope. To help first responders struggling with PTSI achieve meaningful wellness, we’ve integrated mental health care and trauma services into our specialized wellness programs. Our goal is treat your trauma and mental health as well as to help you begin to develop healthier coping skills and address the issues that are holding you back from a life of freedom. Some of the treatments we use include:
- Individual and group therapy
- Trauma services
- Integrated mental health care
- Proven psychotherapies (CBT, EMDR)
- Holistic treatments
- Stress management and coping skills
- Chemical dependency education
- Reintegration support
- Continuum of care
Our programs are tailored to the unique needs of first responders but are highly individualized so you can find an approach that resonates with you. Depending on your needs, we also offer different levels of care so you can find a path to recovery that fits your situation.