PTSD and First Responders


The recent bombings at the Boston Marathon once again brought to light the crucial role of first responders – and the risks that they often have to take. As paramedics, police officers, and even civilians streamed around the marathon finish line just seconds after the duel blasts, we watched on and many of us wondered if there would be further explosions. We felt deep concern for the physical safety of the downed victims and first responders. But physical wounds are only half the story.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will likely affect some of the 176 injured individuals as well as any number of first responders. It doesn't take an event as extreme as a bombing – or the ensuing manhunt – to trigger this disorder, but the Boston crisis did put PTSD in a stark light.

Bearing in mind that PTSD is not exclusive to those who deal with guns and bombs, it is important that everyone be attentive to their mental health, especially in the wake of any kind of tragedy. And this applies not only to those who were at the site of the event, but even, for example, those who spent long periods following it on television.

Still, for first responders, trauma is almost a daily part of life. However, seeking help is not always easy. They may fear being stigmatized by, or looking vulnerable to, their colleagues. But this is not insurmountable.

"Do I Have PTSD?"

PTSD is treatable, and such treatment can result in very noticeable improvement of the patient's condition. Some important resources:

  • PTSD Screening Day, one of the highlights of PTSD Awareness Month, is June 20. Community organizations and military installations across the country will be offering free online screenings to the public, with some also holding special events to promote PTSD awareness and to educate. Meanwhile, National PTSD Awareness Day is June 27.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (or text: "TalkWithUs" to 66746). Sadly, PTSD can lead to suicide. First responders who are entertaining thoughts of taking their own life should call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The SAMSHA website lists "Tips for Coping Before, During or After a Disaster." They are:

  • Take care of yourself
  • Reach out to friends and family
  • Talk to your children
  • Get enough "good" sleep
  • Take care of pets or get outside into nature when it's safe
  • Know when to ask for help

We should all pass on this information to first responders we know. The more people who follow these guidelines, take screenings, and seek treatment, the more "acceptable" it will be to do this within the first-responder ranks without concern about criticism or embarrassment.


© 2010 Screening for Mental Health, Inc.