Think of our emergency services and the traumatic scenes we expect these police, ambulance and fire staff to cope with mentally as part of their everyday jobs in our community.
How do they deal with the harrowing sights that greet them at car crashes or fires where someone is killed? How do they live a normal life after witnessing what would give most of us nightmares?
In the New South Wales fire service, this kind of stress is now taken very seriously. “Post traumatic stress disorder is a problem. It’s quite common”, said Station Officer Matt Goldman at Glen Innes fire station. “As fire-fighters we are at a higher risk than most”, he said.
The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are fear, anxiety and hopelessness which are triggered after witnessing a traumatic event like a violent death, or having your own life endangered. University of New England professor, Paul Barratt, has just highlighted how first-responders to emergencies “are at high risk of developing serious stress from traumatic events”.
And the New South Wales coroner did a report on suicide in the emergency services and found that it happened much more frequently than in the public at large. The authorities are now moving to address this problem.
In the NSW fire service, there is a “Well-being Unit” with a clinical psychologist who has worked with Special Forces in Afghanistan. In the fire service here, 95 per cent of the officers are men – only one in 20 are female – and that makes the problem acute because men find it harder to be open about trauma, according to Officer Goldman.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can happen months or even years after the event which triggered it. “It can be seven years from exposure to diagnosis”, he said. Sometimes it comes suddenly, long after the event itself. “In the fire service”, said Matt Goldman, “we may experience fifty fatalities in our career, each one going into the memory. And then something suddenly reminds the officer of the incident.”
This article was originally published by the Armidale Express.
Tags: emergency management, Emergency Response, Emergency Services, emergency workers, PTSD, search and rescue