What is PTSD?
PTSD is a clearly defined serious mental health condition. Several distinct and well-defined symptoms have to occur together for a specific time period, and at a specified severity level. This has been researched quite well and for several decades. It is important that a scientific baseline is used when making comments about diagnostic criteria and when conditions are identified.
We want you to be cautious of the belief that PTSD is very common. A distinct set of circumstances have to be in place for this diagnosis to be made.
What is NOT PTSD?
As a First Responder you see and experience many very upsetting events. You have been well-trained and are experienced in dealing with these and know what works best in maintaining wellness through a good balance in your life. Often, you may experience symptoms, such as sleep disturbances (shift work alone can cause this!), fatigue, changes in mood, irritability, loss or increase of appetite, even intrusive experiences such as flashbacks or nightmares. That is a normal human reaction to something that is not normal in everyday life; it is NOT necessarily a sign that you have or are about to, develop PTSD. Please read on for more information on this.
What Should I Do?
For a while after a particularly difficult event such symptoms are a normal response to something nobody should have to witness or experience. In such times, when you experience something of this nature, do your best to continue activities that you enjoy, especially sports, arts, social activities, and stick to your routine. Try to keep to a structure in your lifestyle.
Talking about your experiences is not always the best approach, especially when something just happened, and it is fresh on your mind. You may need some time to just process this by yourself, or, speak to someone you trust, such as peer support or a spouse or friend who understands the work that you do.
When Should I Get Professional Help?
You need to think about talking to a psychologist when these symptoms last up to and longer than three months. That means that what you experienced is troubling you to a point where it is not resolving for you and you are struggling. If you have professional intervention at this point, we can make a distinct difference and get you back on track very quickly, enlisting friends and peers where that is helpful.
PTSD is not diagnosed until you have experienced a specific set of symptoms for over six months, and these symptoms have not lessened in frequency and severity, and you are struggling.
The earlier the intervention, the more likely you will recover and not develop long term complications.
Who is more vulnerable?
Vulnerability is caused by at least two factors: the nature of the events, and the individual’s resilience.
Cumulative exposure is a definite factor causing vulnerability. That is, over time a lot of exposure to events that are adverse will cause more of the symptoms I talked about above.
In addition, one must keep in mind, that events that are touching you on a personal level will have a great deal more impact than those that do not mean as much to you.
Having less support at home, a difficult upbringing, fewer extracurricular activities that are truly enjoyed, will also cause more vulnerability to develop reactions to exposure to adverse events.
What Can I Do For Prevention?
Maintaining friendships, investing in your relationships with family and spouse, working on extracurricular activities such as sports, will all help you maintain a balance in your life style that will help to prevent your work experiences from dominating your day to day perception of life and social values.
Value your relationships with people who support you and value your work; invest in sports and other activities which make you happy and help you feel fulfilled.
Balancing the dark events that you witness with the lighter and happier side of life is crucial.
If all your options have not worked, choose a professional helper to help you, the helper!
My colleagues and I hope that you will not ever need us in this way….But if you do, we will be there for you.