First responders carry the weight of an entire community on their shoulders. They enter dangerous scenes head-on and willingly engage with situations that are physically and emotionally challenging. They do all this so others don’t have to.
It is of little surprise that these jobs can take a significant toll on a first responder’s mental health. As society has become more accepting of these ailments, the full scope of the consequences has come into clearer focus.
The prevalence of PTSD among first responders
We are learning more about how the demands of the job can impact first responders, such as firefighters, emergency medical personnel and police officers. According to one federal research report, an estimated three out of every 10 first responders develop a behavioral health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s a noticeably higher rate than that of the general population.
The afflictions can impact all aspects of an individual’s life, including their own happiness and the strength of their relationships. Firefighters, for example, tend to have higher suicide attempt and ideation rates.
Yet many affected workers keep it to themselves. According to the research report, one study found three-quarters of all police officers said they had experienced a “traumatic event,” and half said they personally knew a colleague who had “changed” after such an experience.
Still, less than half of the surveyed officers had revealed to their agency these challenges.
Workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD
There is a clear link between the difficult work of first responders and mental health. Here in Minnesota, workers suffering from PTSD due to their job can turn to workers’ compensation for support – just the same as if they suffered a physical injury.
While PTSD has been acknowledged as a work-related injury since 2013, it was often difficult to prove a connection when filing for workers’ compensation, according to MPR News. A recently enacted state law changes that.
Now, PTSD is presumed to be linked directly to a first responder’s job for the purposes of workers’ compensation. This change removes a previously daunting obstacle for the suffering first responder, shifting the burden instead to the employing agency.
A mental health condition is an injury. It can develop after years of regular exposure to disturbing scenes, or come on after a single, traumatic event. Just because outsiders cannot physically see the wound does not mean it doesn’t exist.
First responders put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. The workers’ compensation support system should be there when they need it.