The plight of this country's war veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is well-known. It is not as well known that many firefighters across the U.S. also struggle with PTSD due to trauma from their job.
Researchers estimate that 7 to 37 percent of firefighters have PTSD. According to a study by Florida State University, nearly half of all firefighters have had suicidal thoughts, and one in five has made plans to carry it out.
When a family member has PTSD, the entire household deals with it. If you have a firefighter in your home and you are concerned about his or her mental health, here are some signals to watch for. None of these means a person has PTSD, but they should be warning signs that medical help may be necessary.
Glass test - If one imagines stress as water, most of us start each day with an empty glass. As the day goes on, the glass slowly fills. A person with PTSD starts the day with a glass that's already three-fourths full.
How does your firefighting family member handle stress on a day off? Does the glass quickly overflow? Being overwhelmed looks different in different people, but often manifests itself in the quick loss of temper, storming out or excessive crying.
Whatever wasteland - If an adult family member has begun acting like a non-verbal teen, it's time to seek medical help. This may manifest itself in needing to be asked multiple times to tackle simple tasks, lack of leadership skills that once existed, or even the inability to make decisions.
Lack of interests - One doctor who works with military families calls it the "I usta" syndrome - "I usta fish. I usta work out. I usta enjoy my kids." If there are too many "ustas" in your loved one's life, seek medical help.
Acceptance At Work
One reason many firefighters fail to seek help for PTSD is the tough-guy attitude that permeates so many firehouses. Seeking treatment is seen as a sign of weakness by many in that work environment.
Leaders concerned about the PTSD problem among firefighters are advocating for more funding to treat it and laws that make it easier for firefighters who are diagnosed with work-related PTSD to collect workers' compensation.
If you are a firefighter who has symptoms of PTSD or you have a family member who is a firefighter and may be suffering from PTSD, it's wise to connect with a knowledgeable workers' compensation lawyer who can advise them of their rights.