First responders, such as police officers or firefighters, are—by definition—first on the scene in the event of a tragedy. They have won well-earned praise from society for their heroic efforts. But one recognition they haven’t received is reasonable coverage for the fallout that comes from seeing terrible tragedies up close.
Fortunately, that’s changing.
Florida passed a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) law ensuring that first responders diagnosed with PTSD can get workers’ compensation benefits. Ohio and Louisiana are following suit and the trend is growing nationwide.
PTSD is often associated with the military. In the past, it has gone by nicknames like “shell-shock.” But post-traumatic stress is quite widespread and operates on a spectrum. It involves high levels of anxiety, marked by hypervigilance. Its consequences include a desire to avoid anything associated with the traumatic incident. This can lead to the adoption of a very dim view of the world and one’s place in it.
PTSD left untreated can lead to suicide. Given the horrors that first responders see—from dismembered bodies to school-aged victims—it’s no surprise they are among those most at risk.
The Journal of Emergency Medical Services that more than a third of first responders will consider suicide at some point, and 7 percent of them make a concrete attempt at following through. That’s more than 10 times the rate of the general population.
Here are two examples to put a human face on the numbers.
Florida firefighter David Dangerfield was 48 years old when his positive outlook on life slowly dissipated as he saw one tragedy after another. He took his own life in 2016.
Trever Murphy was only 28 years old and his firefighting job saw him similarly haunted to the point of suicide.
The passage of a PTSD law in these states indicates growing public awareness of the deadly consequences of this disease and the need for time off and treatment—the same as a worker with a broken leg would get through workers’ compensation.