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PTSD is an unseen stress factor for emergency workers

Emergency workers help people in crisis get the care they need quickly. When the job is done, victims of accidents and disasters are treated by a team of healthcare professionals in a hospital while the emergency workers return home. While most people see this routine as "just doing the job," emergency workers need help after traumatic events too.

A victim's physical pain can be passed on as psychological trauma to those responding to crisis situations. Health care studies estimate that as many as one in three emergency workers will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their career. That means you are eight times more likely to experience PTSD as an emergency worker than the average person.

The prevalence and treatment of PTSD among first responders is an emerging issue in the field. Although military service members have gained wider access to treatment in the past decade, not as much is known about how the disorder affects emergency workers. Most people don't know they have PTSD until they experience symptoms, but knowing the early warning signs can lead to better treatment.

Know the symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD include disturbing thoughts or feelings related to traumatic events, feeling "on edge" or having trouble sleeping due to stress or night terrors. Subtle environmental factors like sound and smell can trigger episodes among people experiencing PTSD.

One police officer diagnosed with PTSD said he would "burst into tears" while watching television. Law enforcement officers especially need to be aware of the signs and symptoms because a "macho" workplace culture could discourage people from seeking help. Yet experiencing symptoms can be just the tip of the iceberg to a larger problem.

Seek treatment

When the stress of work interferes with life outside the job, that is when care is needed. Co-workers can empathize with each other and are often the first to notice symptoms of PTSD among their peers, but where should you go for professional help?

A factory worker who is injured on the job might go to his or her regular doctor for treatment of a physical injury, but mental and emotional trauma requires more specialized care. The cost of therapy could dissuade people from seeking treatment. Because PTSD is largely unseen, substantiating a workers' compensation claim can be more difficult.

Your co-workers can provide a sympathetic ear, and a doctor can provide care. Likewise, a workers' compensation attorney can help you gain the compensation you need to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

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