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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Emergency Medical Services

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

It has been widely argued recently that mental healthcare in the United States needs serious attention and changes to make the system more accessible and to give patients the appropriate care that they need.  The Department of Veteran Affairs has been largely scrutinized the last few years for their handling of war veterans and their mental health needs.  In recent years, several studies have confirmed a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel. Considering the budget cuts surrounding Emergency Medical Services and the numerous volunteers that staff EMS agencies, these statistics are alarming and bring forth the notion that local governments should be doing much more for emergency personnel when it comes to mental health care. Not doing more by offering counseling services to all public safety personnel is simply negligent on behalf of the local government.

Military and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Some psychology experts say that some individuals in the military will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because they have been exposed to highly stressful situations where they thought they may not survive in an instance. They also argue that not all military personnel will develop PTSD because some will need to have had certain per-war vulnerabilities that contribute to the overall development of the syndrome. This could be applied to Emergency Medical Services and other roles in public safety.

EMS: Daily and Weekly Stressful Situations

For Emergency Medical Services, stressful situations can happen daily. For one, life-threatening circumstances happen so often that depending on where an EMT is working, such circumstances can be a weekly or even daily event - and for those that are career EMTs, they can sustain decades of traumatic circumstances making Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder relatively more prevalent.

PTSD Awareness Gaining Momentum in the EMS Community

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is gaining and understanding in the EMS community as more and more awareness is made, and studies are conducted to show just how prevalent it is. One of the most difficult factors, however, will come from local government agencies figuring out how to afford effective treatment and to effectively budget for it. Traditionally, Emergency Medical Services has not been an area that is well-funded, potentially making it even more difficult to effectively treat public safety employees suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This combined with the healthcare system and what people can afford to pay for healthcare needs makes the conundrum for PTSD treatment in EMS even more complicated.

Local Governments and Budgeting for PTSD Treatment

Municipalities need to carefully consider how they can help their public safety employees, (both paid and volunteer) with treatment for PTSD. Doing so will greatly help to aid the EMS community as these individuals will be much more capable to effectively handle 911 emergencies. Ultimately, public safety employees should be treated with the same respect as veterans returning from war because they are working traumatic emergencies that could have devastating psychological consequences. Without working to include the appropriate counseling measures for these employees, local governments may be negligent in how they're providing resources to their public safety employees when 911 emergencies are known to be traumatic and potentially dangerous.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.