Four signs a first responder may be suffering from post traumatic stress

A first responder battling post traumatic stress avoiding loved ones by laying in bed for hours

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 30 percent of first responders suffer from a mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress (PTS). 

With the rise in critical incidents against civilians and towards our men and women in uniform, first responders must be able to identify PTS. 

PTS is a response to experiencing a shocking tragedy or a terrifying event accompanied by a physical or emotional reaction. 

There is no absolute time duration for the condition, it could last weeks or years, or it could last forever if it goes untreated. The onset of symptoms could be immediate, but in some people, symptoms don’t develop until weeks or months after the trauma. 

Many people suffering from PTS don’t even know they’re experiencing it, as it can come in intense nightmares, depression, insomnia, and everything in between. 

“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. The brain sends out distress signals that create emotional, physical and psychological symptoms that can negatively impact overall health, concentration, and emotional regulation.”

Founder & Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stephen Odom, First Responder Wellness

When someone is diagnosed with PTS, they typically display symptoms from each category, with many combinations and patterns depending on each individual’s experience.

While the following symptoms may indicate PTS, remember, only a clinical therapist can properly diagnose a patient with PTS. 

Intrusive thoughts

Involuntary, recurrent thoughts regarding the traumatic event you have experienced and a resurgence of related feelings or memories are responsibilities shared by a person suffering from PTS. These intrusive thoughts can lead to vivid dreams or nightmares and even flashbacks.

Hyperarousal and reactivity

Emotions often experienced due to PTS include feeling on edge, irritable, angry or jumpy. Intense emotions, exaggerated startle reactions and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate can also develop after the traumatic event. 


Avoiding places, people, activities, and other stimuli that might trigger or act as a reminder of the trauma indicates PTS. Isolation from friends and family, detachment or disassociation, and resistance to seeking help are also common symptoms of the disorder. 

Negative thoughts

Feeling overwhelmed by continuous negative thoughts and distorted feelings related to the traumatic event, which often includes guilt, shame, and self-blame, are also symptoms of PTS. 

Also, it’s imperative to note that almost half of those suffering from PTS are battling substance abuse. As the substance abuse heightens, the PTS symptoms will continue to intensify in many cases. 

If you or a first responder you know may be suffering from PTS, click here to learn more.

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