Lately, I have been seeing posts and articles about the prevalence of PTSD with first responders quite frequently. I love that it’s being discussed at large, that there is some recognition and hopefully, that these man and women in uniform will have access to help and treatment.
This recent CBC article caught my attention.
I love that this man uses art as a tool to open up the discussion and maybe even as therapy for himself and others. Every time I read something that touches on that topic, it brings me back to a discussion with a Paramedic we met during our Canadian tour. We hung out for a few days, got to know each other a little bit, became friends and I remember very well the time she told me how much she hates being asked about her job: “Tell me what’s the grossest thing you saw.”
I never thought about it this way. I mean, I get it. Some people find it interesting. They are curious, they like the drama, the gore. That’s why they watch shows like American Horror Story or Dexter. You would have never caught me asking such a question. Anyone that knows me, knows that I’m faint-hearted. Literally, I could faint.
You would certainly not catch me asking them such a question now. Because what you’re really asking them is to live through their worse trauma one more time, to think about the very thing that keeps them up at night, that populate their nightmare. You may think, well they’re trained for that. No, not really.
They are trained to see the worse wounds, to respond quickly and professionally to a cracked skull, broken bones and bleeding bodies, that’s true. But being a first responder means you’re first on the scene and you see it all. The cracked skull caused by an abusive husband from hitting her repeatedly with a baseball bat, the broken bones belonging to a defenceless 2 year old that cried too loud for tired mom/dad, the bleeding from the girl that got gang raped and left for dead.
All these scenes that make your love, compassion and faith in humanity slowly leave you, they see. And the scenes that stick with them most are often the ones they are desperately trying to forget.
You are trained to help and save lives but repeatedly you are faced with your limitations, your inability to help. You got there too late. The accident was so bad you couldn’t save him.
Trauma and repetitive trauma cause alarming numbers of first responders to suffer from PTSD. Untreated undiagnosed PTSD can ultimately lead to suicide, but this outcome is preventable.
Please, do society a favour. Be kind. Ask them about their best memory on the job, or what they love the most about what they do. Try to help them remember that they are doing this because deep within, they want to help and they ARE helping.
If it’s a friend or family member, encourage them to take on activities that could provide relief. Be there to listen if you can. Encourage them to seek professional help if you notice symptoms of depression, anxiety and/or PTSD.
Again, simply be kind.