Minnesota legislators recently passed a bill that greatly benefits first responders. As a local Fox News affiliate reported, first responders such as police, firefighters, paramedics and corrections officers are no longer required to prove what events caused their employment-related post-traumatic stress disorder in order to receive worker's compensation.
This bill can do much to help first responders get the care they need. Consider the story of Brian Cristofono, a firefighter who suffered from job-related nightmares and panic attacks. According to an NBC station from Minneapolis, Cristofono became irritable, started drinking and his marriage ultimately fell apart. The firefighter also saw three coworkers succumb to suicidal thoughts and thought about taking his own life.
Luckily, Cristofono was able to get help – a psychologist diagnosed him with PTSD and drafted a list of events believed to have caused the condition. Creating this list couldn't have been easy, as PTSD symptoms can manifest months or years after the trigger event occurred. Cristofono used his diagnosis to apply for worker's comp, but his claim was denied.
"There was no physical injury associated with any of those calls," Cristofono told the news station, relaying the response he received from the city. "So it could not be PTSD."
The burden of proof is now shifted thanks to this bill, and PTSD is now an assumed side effect of being a first responder. This news comes just in time for National PTSD Awareness Month.
PTSD among first responders and veterans
The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a mental health condition resulting from experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. The disorder is difficult to cope with, especially if it's left untreated. Symptoms include nightmares, uncontrollable thoughts, flashbacks and severe anxiety.
Some occupations are more prone to possible PTSD than others – particularly military and first responder roles. A 2017 survey from the University of Phoenix found 84 percent of police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and nurses have suffered symptoms related to mental health issues. Furthermore, 84 percent have experienced a traumatic event on the job, but only 34 percent were diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This isn't to say that traumatic experiences only affect a small percentage; it's more likely that people have PTSD but aren't diagnosed.
Why might this be true? Unfortunately, there remains a pervasive stigma against mental health services, especially among first responders. Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said they have therapy, counseling and similar opportunities available, but only 39 percent actively sought them out. Reasons for avoiding such services included fears that supervisors would treat them differently, that coworkers would perceive them as weak and that they'd be passed over for promotions.
Such stigmas are, in part, why Congress named June 27 PTSD Awareness Day back in 2010. What's more, the Senate designated all of June as PTSD Awareness Month just four years later in 2014.
The goal of these measures, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is to promote awareness of PTSD and its effective treatments. The VA provides many helpful aids to assist veterans and their families in understanding PTSD and seeking help, and first responders may benefit from these resources as well.
One booklet, titled "Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment," helps you define PTSD, lists possible PTSD-causing traumatic events, describes various symptoms and answers common questions about treatment. Another tool, the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, helps you make the best choices for your life and health when addressing your condition.
If you suspect yourself or someone you love suffers from PTSD, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. If you don't yet have a counselor, look for one who specializes in PTSD. Reach out to loved ones, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) if you're having suicidal thoughts.