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First Responders and Mental Health: Part 4

How PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression Influence Your Lifestyle as a First Responder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness commonly experienced by millions of first responders. The development of PTSD and other psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression, are caused by ongoing exposure to traumatic and life-threatening events on the job. The impact can be intrusive and debilitating, oftentimes manifesting into various facets of your life.

Learning healthier coping strategies is possible and can give you the relief you’re seeking while helping you better manage your day to day life. In order to work towards an effective and healthy recovery, it’s important to first understand the areas of your life that are impacted by your symptoms. Whether you’re struggling to stay on task, experience extreme mood changes, or begin to withdraw from the world around you, it’s helpful to identify these signs and symptoms in yourself or others early on.

The persistent feelings of immense stress and isolation may be influencing both your work and home life. Remember, you are not alone in this battle. It’s important to give more attention to the areas of your life that have been taken over by PTSD, anxiety, or depression in order to fully lean into healthy coping strategies.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression

When it comes to these psychological conditions, there’s common ground in terms of their signs and symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Although some people assume mental health is experienced in the mind, many symptoms are actually expressed physically.

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stiff muscles
  • Lack of concentration
  • Decreased energy
  • Impaired decision-making skills
  • Fluctuating weight (extreme loss or gain)
  • Getting too much or too little sleep

Psychological Symptoms

The psychological symptoms are those that are experienced on a mental or emotional level. While they may not be noticeable to the outside world, they are something you may be feeling deep inside.

  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Fear of the future
  • Detachment from life around you
  • Fear, anxiety, nervousness
  • Thoughts of harming oneself or suicide

Behavioural Symptoms

Among the many signs and symptoms associated with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, the behavioural changes are those that tend to be more noticeable to others.

  • Easily irritable and angered
  • Lashing out
  • Avoidance and social withdrawal
  • Experiencing flashbacks
  • Extreme mood shifts
  • Substance abuse

Effect on Work Performance

Decreased Work Performance

It’s important to acknowledge that the signs and symptoms involved in PTSD, anxiety, or depression are likely impacting how you function on a regular basis. If you’re having difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or lacking the energy for simple daily tasks, it’s understandable that you will experience decreased work performance. This is especially true in highly physically or mentally demanding professions, such as with firefighting, police force, paramedic services, and so on.

Although some individuals do continue to work and function reasonably well for a period of time, neglecting management of your mental illness can cause symptoms to evolve and lead to an eventual decline in your performance. It’s important to identify these changes in yourself or others before it puts anyone at risk on the job.

Decreased Job Attendance

There is both a physical and mental presence involved in attending your job. Even though you’ve arrived on site, you may not have the mental ability to take on the day. This can be caused by any previous experience of trauma in the workfield.

One study revealed that workers experiencing chronic stress are more likely to attend their jobs late or call in sick more frequently than those who were not experiencing stress. The fear of reliving past experience mixed with a lack of energy and motivation to get out of bed in the morning create the perfect storm for missing work.

Conflict With Co-Workers

Another common by-product in people managing PTSD is the increased incidence of conflict at work. When the stress of a high-demanding job becomes overwhelming, this can cause you to lash out at those around you. It’s especially important to identify and control these easily triggered responses in yourself early to avoid any unnecessary conflict with your fellow co-workers.

Effects Outside of Work

Marital Conflict

While some marital conflict is very common among couples, there are added PTSD-related issues that can create more tension in the household. In these instances, couples experience higher rates of conflict, divorce, and even struggle with unhealthy coping strategies, such as drinking, affairs, and so on. Seeking out either couples or individual counselling can be beneficial for you and your partner to assist in creating a healthier and happier marriage.

Relationships with Friends

As mentioned in the symptoms above, it’s common to isolate yourself away from your friends and loved ones. Unfortunately, the long term repercussions of social isolation can leave you feeling that much more disconnected and withdrawn from the people you love.

With the current status of Covid-19, the ability to check in with any friends outside of your home has become even more of a challenge. During these times, it’s important to find ways to connect with your friends, whether that be through a phone call, an online zoom visit, or even a socially distanced walk.

Risk Seeking Behavior

Turning towards unhealthy outlets to help cope with mental health is commonly seen in those managing PTSD, anxiety, and depression. First responders dealing with a mental health disorder are shown to be at an even greater risk of developing a drug or alcohol addiction because of it.

Studies on addiction have reported that people who use drugs or alcohol for self-medicating purposes are more likely to develop substance dependence when compared to recreational users. Seeking a healthy coping strategy is key to avoid falling into this sort of unhealthy behaviour.

Check in With Yourself and Others

Although two people may experience their symptoms of PTSD very differently, whether or not you’re mildly impaired, it may still play a considerable role in your work and personal lives. It’s important to check in with yourself and others if you notice any serious changes.

Remember that you are not alone in this and there is hope. The symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, or depression do not have to last forever. Reach out for support today by booking your first consultation with a trusted counsellor. Engaging in dedicated treatment can enable you to process trauma in a productive way, helping you restore your function both at work and at home.

Written by Laura Anderson, MA, MSW, RSW

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