The Ultimate Guide to Rehab for First Responders:
How and Why it Helps
Addiction Treatment for Healthcare Professionals
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Practitioners all swear the same oath. They pledge to guard "the quality and equal availability of emergency medical care." Unfortunately, rates of depression, PTSD, and substance abuse have skyrocketed among these valuable workers. At Dr. Paul's By The Sea, we understand the unique challenges facing first responders today. Keep reading to find out more and learn how we can help through rehab for first responders.
Mental Health in First Responders
During the first COVID-19 wave in New York City, first responders faced a new kind of emergency. In April 2020, an average of 200 probable COVID-19 patients died each day in their homes.
The current health situation in Los Angeles mirrors the early outbreak in NYC. At one point, the city ordered first responders not to transport patients who couldn't be revived outside the hospital.
Between March 20 and April 5, the NYC Fire Department responded to 400% more home deaths than in 2019. EMTs and paramedics began triaging patients. The current health situation in Los Angeles mirrors the early outbreak in NYC. Hospitals are running out of oxygen. The city ordered first responders not to transport patients who couldn't be revived outside the hospital.
After a year on the COVID-19 frontline, first responders need time and space to heal. Here at Dr. Paul's, we give first responders everything they need to recover. Different professions bring their own difficulties for first responders. Police officers may witness more violent situations. Firefighters might be at risk of developing PTSD. In this section, we will review common mental health challenges for first responders. Let's get started.
Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
EMTs are always on the front line. They have to work fast, with little time to relax and recover. Most EMTs do not have time to process the trauma they can experience on a daily basis. Many EMTs experience depression and PTSD. Before COVID-19, EMTs did life-saving work every day. Now, EMTs are stretched to the limit. No matter how hard or fast they work, there are many patients EMTs can't help.
Emergency room wait times have increased to 12- or 18-hour periods. Many ambulances wait for hours before medical professionals can transport their patients. The stress of the pandemic has led to burnout for many EMTs. As COVID-19 drags on, this stress can lead to PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Studies have shown that up to 50% of male, and 40% of female firefighters, participate in regular binge drinking. Firefighters struggle with alcohol abuse twice as often as the general population. Studies estimate that as many as half of firefighter deaths are caused by stress and exhaustion. Up to 22% of firefighters struggle with depression.
Most US firefighters are volunteers. During COVID-19, these voluntary workers have been stretched thin. Responding to in-home deaths or natural disasters is an even greater challenge today. Firefighters are now at more risk of mental health disorders than ever before.
Alcohol abuse is a common concern among police officers. One study showed that up to 18% of urban police officers struggle with alcohol use. Up to a quarter of police officers experience suicidal ideation. Officers who experience burnout are at an even greater risk. PTSD is a huge risk for police officers. The rates of PTSD are higher for women than men. Working in a male-dominated field carries its own challenges.
After traumatic events, rates of mental health issues soar. Following 9/11, up to 50% of officers experienced depression and anxiety. After Hurricane Katrina, PTSD rates rose. The COVID-19 pandemic has been traumatic for many officers. And this traumatic event keeps going. Long-term exposure to stress amplifies the risk of PTSD and substance abuse.
Identifying Symptoms in First Responders
We've addressed common mental health challenges among first responders. But how can you tell whether you or a loved one has developed a serious mental health issue? As noted above, first responders struggle with depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. Let's break these conditions down. Then we will cover common symptoms associated with each.
The medical name for depression is "Major Depressive Disorder." People who have this disorder struggle with feelings of sadness. They may find little pleasure in activities they used to love. These negative feelings can impact energy levels and other important parts of our well-being. Some of the most common depression symptoms include:
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
- Unexplained fatigue or body aches
- A sense of guilt or worthlessness
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Having difficulty focusing or making choices
- Suicidal ideation
People who struggle with depression have difficulty controlling negative, repeating thoughts. The good news is that there are many treatments available for this condition. If you or a loved one is dealing with depression, it's important to get help. Severe depression can become life-threatening if it is not treated.
People who develop substance abuse might show sudden changes in their behavior. These changes can have a negative effect on motivation and self-esteem. Those who struggle with substance abuse need help to overcome this difficult condition. Here are several important warning signs of substance abuse:
- Changes in personal hygiene and/or general health
- Trouble with physical coordination
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping at unusual times
- Extreme lethargy or hyperactivity
- Forgetfulness or inability to concentrate
- Unexplained absences from school or work
Many people with addiction experience social stigma. It's important to remember that addiction can happen to anybody. Having a substance abuse problem is nothing to be ashamed of. First responders might fear being judged if they come forward. At Dr. Paul's By The Sea, we make it a priority to treat every client with courtesy and respect. A substance abuse disorder does not have to be a life sentence. With proper care and support, recovery is always possible.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a common disorder experienced by military veterans. The trauma of war and combat can permanently affect soldiers. Many have compared the work of first responders to fighting on the front lines of battle. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the enemy is a microscopic virus. First responders are fighting against an invisible army.
People who develop PTSD might struggle to keep working or taking part in other normal activities. They might also experience symptoms like these:
- Flashbacks of traumatic events
- Feeling emotionally numb or detached
- Nightmares and other sleep difficulties
- A sense of dissociation from reality
- Physical reactions to loud noises
- Difficulty focusing on one task
PTSD is a serious condition that can impact every aspect of your life. There are many treatment options available for people impacted by PTSD. If you have experienced trauma, it's OK to ask for help. With the right support, people with PTSD can recover and find the happiness we all deserve.
How to Support Your First Responder
If someone you know struggles with one of these conditions, you can help them simply by being there. In addition to professional help, having a strong support team is vital for anyone in recovery. Let's go over a few ways you can support someone you know is struggling.
Listen Then Listen Some More
Sometimes, people don't know they need help. It can be difficult to accept that you have a problem. It's also common to experience feelings of shame or guilt about needing help in the first place.
If someone you know is having a hard time, you don't need to have all the answers. Sit down with them and ask questions like "how are you?" Or, "can you talk to me about what's going on?" For anyone dealing with a mental health or substance abuse condition, a listening ear makes a huge difference.
Encourage Group Activities
In the COVID-19 era, social isolation is a risk for many of us. But there are many virtual group activities out there. If you are concerned about someone, consider recommending online group activities. These could include fitness classes, family dinners, or movie screenings.
You might also recommend volunteer activities like helping out at a food shelter or mentoring at-risk youth. Giving back gives you a sense of purpose. This is especially important for people struggling to find one.
Normalize Mental Health Care
Many people feel afraid to seek mental health care. Getting mental health care for first responders is no easy task. It can be hard for caregivers to accept help in return. One way that you can support a first responder in your life is by normalizing mental health treatment. You could mention your own experiences with talk therapy, or recommend a good article on treatment benefits.
First responders are used to dedicating all their resources to other people. It's normal to be uncomfortable when you go from caregiver to patient. When you give your loved ones judgment-free encouragement, you can motivate them to recover. You can also encourage them to seek professional help. With a supportive network and a great professional team, recovery can begin.
Why Rehab for First Responders Is Important
Getting the right professional support is crucial for recovery. At Dr. Paul's, we've helped patients from many backgrounds on the road to healing. For first responders, the treatment process begins with a diagnosis. A doctor or psychologist will interview their patient and evaluate their symptoms. The next step includes developing a treatment plan.
All treatment plans are developed with individual recovery in mind. Mental healthcare practitioners help patients express their feelings in a safe space. Identifying emotions helps you learn how to respond to them. Practitioners will encourage the first responder to pursue more social activities. Feeling engaged in your community is an important part of mental health.
Peer support is also important for first responders. Firefighters or EMTs are trained to work as part of a team. Peer support during the recovery process can make the journey less isolated.
Group therapy is one great option for encouraging peer support. There are many virtual therapy or support group options. In group therapy, first responders can bond over shared experiences.
In a rehab setting, patients receive all of this care and more. Dr. Paul's Inpatient Rehab program is designed to maximize care for every client. Our program's structured environment facilitates long-lasting recovery. Individualized care is perfect for first responders dealing with serious mental health or substance abuse disorders.
When a new patient enters our facility, we design a targeted care plan. We offer medically assisted support for individuals who have just finished a detox program. Our clinicians monitor each patient to assist with any withdrawal symptoms. Managing these symptoms is critical to prevent relapse.
We offer individual and group therapy sessions tailored to each client. We know how important community is for recovering first responders. At Dr. Paul's, community is a top priority. No one should have to go through recovery alone. Our program includes healthy coping strategies like yoga or meditation.
When you enter Dr. Paul's, you enter a treatment community. During your stay, healing is our prerogative.
Taking the Next Step on Your Healing Journey
If you or your loved one is seeking help, Dr. Paul's rehab for first responders is here for you. Our top-of-the-line program is located in St. Augustine, a beautiful place to begin your recovery. In this stress-free environment, our care team will develop a personalized treatment plan. Our proven methods help free our clients from the dangerous cycle of substance abuse.
If you're ready to take the next step on your healing journey, get in touch! Our clinical support team will discuss all your treatment options. We look forward to working with you.