Over the past couple of months, we’ve heard some sad stories of accidents and loss of life. Each time I hear a story like this, I think of the emergency response workers who have had to be present and respond to the situation.  Having been a paramedic for many years, I have a sense of the fear that is felt when they are called to the scene.  Events such as the 23-year old construction worker who lost his life or the 30-vehicle crash spilling chemicals on Hwy 401 near Kingston can cause serious impact on emergency response workers.

Even though we may not be connected to the people involved, it’s probably safe to say that we feel sad and maybe even distraught for a few days over the situation as we read or watch the news story.  As an emergency response worker, the stress occurs after the work is done.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness. It often involves exposure to trauma from single events that involve death or the threat of death or serious injury.  (Canadian Mental Health Association)

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Vivid nightmares, flashbacks, thoughts of the event
  • Nervousness or “on edge” all the time
  • Startled very easily
  • Irritability and/or insomnia

The response workers are trained in first-aid and have replayed scenarios over and over again so that in the case of any emergency, they respond first.  They do not think of the trauma or sadness or fear, they think of the situation and the need to provide aid.

It is once the response is over, and perhaps it occurs after years of response, that our emergency workers are faced with PTSD.

What can you do to help someone with PTSD?  The Canadian Mental Health Association offers this advice:

-Start by learning more about PTSD. This can give you a better idea of your loved one’s experiences.

-People who experience PTSD may withdraw from family and friends. Even if your loved one doesn’t  want to talk, you can still remind them that you are there to listen when they’re ready.

-Understand that behaviours related to PTSD—like avoiding certain situations or reacting angrily to a – minor problem—are not about you. They are about the illness.

-While it’s usually not a good idea to support behaviours that create problems, it’s still important to  support your loved one’s overall movement toward wellness. This balance is not always easy, but you  need to respect your own boundaries, too.

-Ask what you can do to help, but don’t push unwanted advice.

-Try to put your own feelings into words and encourage your loved one to do the same. It’s easier to solve  problems or look at conflicts when you know what’s really going on.

-Take care of your own wellness, and seek support for yourself if you experience difficulties.

-If a loved one’s PTSD is affecting other family members, it may be helpful to seek family counselling.

Life can be a struggle for many people and PTSD can affect anyone. What’s important is the aid, care  and support that we can provide to help those affected.

PTSD Association of Canada

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