Recently, I attended a three day workshop on PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing) and First Responders with one of the leading experts in the area, Dr. E.C. Hurley.
The workshop provided me with the opportunity to learn more about the unique qualities and characteristics of first responders (those designated or trained to respond to an emergency), and how I can better treat PTSD using EMDR. I have worked extensively with paramedics, police officers and military personnel for some time, so staying abreast with the latest developments is essential. For readers not familiar with PTSD and EMDR here are a few key points to consider:
What Is PTSD and EMDR?
- PTSD is a psychological injury resulting from exposure to a traumatic event or series of events that impairs a person’s functioning. Characteristics of PTSD may include: flashbacks, problems sleeping and nightmares, hallucinations, avoidance, numbing by using substances excessively or inappropriately, and detachment. Individuals experiencing PTSD may experience hyper-vigilance, anxiety and fear, and startle easily. Other issues include relationship problems, depression and feelings of guilt.
- EMDR is a psychotherapy used to treat PTSD. Using bilateral stimulation (eye movement, auditory beeps or tapping), individuals work through the traumatic events. Click here to read more about PTSD and EMDR.
Characteristics of first responders and military personnel not normally found in the general population
- First responders and military personnel compartmentalize personal awareness so they can perform their duties effectively. Both groups tend to take initiative, are overly responsible, very punctual, competitive, push themselves to the limit, pay attention to detail and place teamwork before individual needs.
- Both groups have an adrenaline surge when in a dangerous situation, however first responders have an excess of adrenaline which typically is not utilized.
- Typically first responders do not focus on a specific incident but instead ask, which one do you want me to focus on because there are so many. They are very stoic emotionally and may have increased alcohol use.
Close to Home: Canadian Statistics
2% of Canadians will experience PTSD in their lifetime (Van Amerigen, 2008), while:
- One in four paramedics in Canada will develop PTSD in the course of their careers
- Suicide rates among paramedics are five times the national average
- First responders experience PTSD 2 times the rate of the average population
- An estimated 22% of all paramedics will develop PTSD (Drewitz-Chesney, 2012)
- 16 active and 15 retired RCMP officers died by suicide between 2006 and 2014
- Between April and December 2014, 27 first responders died by suicide
- In their lifetimes, one study found nearly a third of first responders – 28 per cent — will have suicidal thoughts, while 4.6 per cent will attempt suicide. (Canadian Psychology, 2018)
It is clear that first responders have a higher incidence of mental health and wellness issues related to occupational stress. If you are a first responder and need need help, please reach out. Click here to access my online calendar. I am a Certified EMDR Therapist with experience working with fire fighters, paramedics and police officers from several local services, the OPP and the RCMP. You are not alone.
Listening. Guiding. Caring.