Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO SPEAK TO A THERAPIST? (part 1)


Industry reports show emergency response professionals have the highest health risks including injuries to the body- and THE MIND [3].  In a study that examined the prevalence of resilience among New Yorkers during the 6 months after 9/11, 65% of participants showed resilience (ability to recover)... suggesting that more cases demonstrated resilience than previously believed. Even among those with the highest levels of exposure and highest probable PTSD, the proportion that were resilient never dropped below 33%. [1]

Mental Health is a concern in the first responder community especially since the 9/11 attacks where traumatic experiences could greatly affect our lives in complex and debilitating ways. Here are some troubling signs that may indicate a need for help.
  • FLASHBACKS that bring you back to the traumatic event and away from present reality regularly
  • INSOMNIA due to fear of vivid dreams of the event or fear of rumination about specifics of the traumatic event causing loss of sleep
  • FEELING DEPRESSED, heavy, loss of hope and joy or consistent fatigue that leads to inability to get out of bed
  • SELF MEDICATING with drugs or alcohol to numb flashback or reoccurring negative thoughts about the traumatic event
  • ANGER and irritability that leads to interpersonal problems with family, friends and colleagues
  • CONSISTENT ANXIETY, panic and worry in hope to gain control of ones environment and decrease threat of another similar traumatic event
  • AVOIDANCE of any reminders of the traumatic event, leading to isolation 
  • FEELINGS OF LONELINESS, emptiness or feelings like you cannot relate to anyone 
  • CONSISTENT SHAME and guilt that causes impairment in functioning, depression and/or anxiety 
  • SUPPRESSION, repression or burying emotional responses associated with the traumatic event, co-occurring with physical symptoms such as chronic pain, racing heart beat, tightness in chest and headache

We are fortunate to live in a time when ALL clinical resources, let it be physiological or mental support is just a click away. First responders are constantly exposed to many unforeseen challenges of (and from) the job- many of which can cause a lasting impression to the body or the mind. It may take one significant traumatic event or a sequence of events to trigger a cascade of lasting effects on our well-being. When we work to process physical emotions that arise from trauma, the hope is that one day we can be less affected by it and live more presently to enjoy life’s fulfilling moments. 

Remember, the first step to resolving any problem large or small is to step forward and say- "I need help!" 

JESSICA GLYNN, LMSW, CPC, CEC 
First Responders Mental Health Div.

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POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) IN FIRST RESPONDERS

A well balanced mental health is about self-care and recognizing what is in our control as far as things that we can change. It is also an acceptance of the things in our outside environment that are beyond our ability to manage. Where a traumatic or disturbing experience may (at one time or another) impact our lives, it is this control that maintains our perspective whether or not those experiences could haunt us with physical disruption and cause harm to our daily routine. Many associate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with military personnel who experienced the horrors of war - but cases of PTSD are also found in the community of rescuers and emergency responders. A popular example of this is from the many victims of 9/11 as well as other local disasters.

No one is exempt from PTSD and it can easily arise from the simplest triggers that kick up that specific traumatic event. For even the most experienced and 'battle-hardened' professionals, the disorder can happen years and even decades later. Many find it very hard to get over this on your own- and most people don't understand how stop those memories from creeping up.

ANYTHING CAN TRIGGER PTSD AT ANY TIME
Some consider it a lock-and-key connection where it took an unsuspectingly simple trigger to transcend a person back to that fateful disturbing memory and replaying it in an uncontrolled and repetitive manner. You think it's behind you- then one day, an associative spark brings it all back; let it be a car backfiring or street sirens, a plane going over the city or even seeing a child crying in the street. Any sort of auditory or visual prompt could unlock that "box of buried emotions" to a first responder seeing someone in distress and going back to that day. Suddenly, your reality of the situation completely changes back to that traumatic event. Many suffer in silence, whereas PTSD could be more easily managed or reversed if addressed earlier. Unattended, this disorder may grow in frequency and strength, leading many to 'self-medicate' with drinking or drugs to fight the flashbacks.

(To be continued in our Rescuers Support Resource Newsletter coming Feb. 28, 2018)

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References
1) Psychological resilience after disaster: New York City in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attack. Bonanno GA1, Galea S, Bucciarelli A, Vlahov D.
2) NYC-9/11 Health
3) Health effects arising from the September 11 attacks
4)"The Impact of Mental Health Stigma in the Fire Service"- by Christopher L. McKenna/FireEngineering.com   https://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-170/issue-12/features/the-impact-of-mental-health-stigma-in-the-fire-service.html

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