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Stressful jobs: First responders' work can lead to PTSD, suicide for many

Albany Herald - 9/24/2022

Sep. 24—ALBANY — Experiencing scenes of a car crash with dead or bleeding victims, overdose cases and burn injuries could happen in a single shift for an EMT or firefighter, and the real world is much less sanitized than what viewers may see on television.

Over time, those encounters can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression or cause police, firefighters and EMTs to seek relief through self-medication.

In 2021, for the first time ever, suicides among first responders exceeded the number of those who died in the line of duty, Albany Fire Department Lt. Steven Gilmer, who is also vice president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Albany Union 5254, said.

"Roughly 85% of first responders as a whole have some form of PTSD or another mental health issue at some point in their career," he said.

On Saturday, the First Responder Support Alliance, a division of the union, hosted the first seminar for first responders at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Albany.

The goal of the four-hour session was to educate emergency workers on the signs of stress and mental health issues they could be experiencing and to recognize those warning signs in fellow first responders.

"In public safety, we deal with structure fires — the fire department — where people lose everything," Gilmer said. "We deal with wrecks. ... Just the visual optics of assisting severe burn victims. We deal with cardiac arrest calls. EMS (Emergency Medical Services) deals with a number of issues with severe injuries, death. Police go to crime scenes. Plus the work schedule, lack of sleep."

Statistics show that in 75% of possible mental health cases involving first responders, the emergency workers either don't recognize their symptoms or fail to seek help, the lieutenant said.

"We've had three that have been right on the verge of suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and we had to step in and get them immediate assistance," Gilmer said. "I also know of some people who reached out to seek help.

"(The jobs) take a toll on individuals. Sometimes we don't recognize it before it's too late. Sometimes we don't seek help because of the stigma. We want to get the information out and basically get people to get help and admit when they need it."


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