How the community can help prevent PTSD in police, fire and emergency services.
Trauma has a tremendous physical and/or emotional impact on victims, but it is important to remember the impact it also has on first responders such as police and emergency services.
Ayelet Shmuel of The Resiliency Zone, an Israel-based mental health practice specializing in trauma healing, works with organizations around the world on trauma education, including Jewish organizations in Metro Detroit.
That’s because society often “misses out” on psychiatric care for first responders, explains Shmuel, 50, from Ashkelon, Israel. Living in a war zone where rocket launches are common, Shmuel has seen first-hand the impact of helping first responders.
Still, the need for psychiatric care for first responders goes beyond Israeli tensions.
As the world grapples with a surge in mass shootings, the US alone saw 202 in 2023, including the Michigan State University shooting that killed three students, the first responders – who are right on the front lines – need to help – make a huge emotional impact on yourself.
That’s why Michigan Hatzalah, a Jewish volunteer service that provides quick response to medical emergencies, enlisted Shmuel’s help last fall to train first responders how to recognize and prevent PTSD, a very real and often unseen side effect of the jobs.
A growing crisis
Recent studies show that approximately 10% of first responders report having PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental illness triggered by witnessing a traumatic event. other data puts that number much higher—up to 35%, depending on the job.
Recent studies show that approximately 10% of first responders report having PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental illness triggered by witnessing a traumatic event. Other data shows that number is much higher – up to 35% depending on the job.
While PTSD and the symptoms can vary from person to person, first responders can experience emotional numbness and avoidance, which can impact personal relationships. It can also include depression, anxiety, and substance use or abuse.
Not everyone will later develop PTSD, but Shmuel says that being aware of the signs and knowing how to prevent them can be a powerful way to lower the rising incidence of PTSD in an increasingly violent world can.
For example, in the recent Michigan Hatzalah program, Shmuel worked with first responders to teach practical tools to protect and care for their mental health while caring for victims.
“People in these jobs usually have a good ability to go from zero to 100 and go into action and crisis mode,” says Shmuel. “Usually these are people who are not distressed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by these situations.”
Often, Shmuel explains, it can seem like first responders are handling a situation just fine, but the effects can often be felt (and seen) when they finish their shift or head home for the day.
“You start noticing some symptoms; You can see the effects,” she says. “You need to know what to look out for and you need to know what to do with those symptoms.”
Identify SIGNS of PTSD
The first step to recognizing and preventing PTSD, Shmuel says, is to become more aware of your body, both inside and out. “If there is such a thing as first aid, there is such a thing as mental first aid,” says Shmuel. “It’s body and soul.”
Second, it is important for the community to care for the individuals who care for the community itself, especially when it comes to volunteer organizations like Hatzalah who are everyday members of society.
“Learning about acute stress and its manifestations,” says Shmuel, is key to preventing that stress from leading to a diagnosis like PTSD.
Once people are aware of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress in general, such as B. fears, flashbacks, nightmares, and avoiding situations that trigger certain memories, they can act and react more quickly when a loved one or member of the community is in need.
“I strongly believe that everyone in the community should have these tools,” says Shmuel. “I think parents, volunteers, teachers and leaders should know.”
Shmuel continues to work with Detroit leadership to provide trauma training to the Jewish community and beyond.
“The earlier you do a mental health intervention,” Shmuel adds, “the better the chances that someone will be there.” [or a first responder] will not develop PTSD.”