Written by Clay Smith
A hospital-based trauma center may be the ideal safe place for community emergency responders to get the mental health assistance they need related to the emotional trauma associated with their work.
Why does this matter?
I will never forget an EMS ride-along as a resident – rollover MVC in the middle of the interstate. It was chilly but I was shivering uncontrollably. I could smell gas fumes and was worried I would get hit by a car. For the medic and EMT, this was just another day at the office. I missed my comfy, controlled, warm, well-lit trauma bay! What our colleagues encounter every day is frequently traumatizing. We are one team. If they hurt, we hurt – and vice versa. Emergency responders have higher than expected rates of suicide, and many will not report PTSD or other symptoms related to mental health for fear of stigma or reprisal. We have an opportunity to improve this.
Heroes need help too
A single urban trauma center screened emergency responders – paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement, and corrections officers – for symptoms of PTSD. Of these, 258 responded. Median years of experience was 14.5 years – not a bunch of rookies. One quarter of respondents met diagnostic criteria for PTSD, of which 81% had not sought care for various reasons. Many were afraid of losing their job. Some were just not worried about it or did not recognize it as a problem. The overwhelming majority, 82.5%, felt that a trauma center was the right place to screen for this. Trauma centers may find that expanding mental health assistance to community emergency responders is an effective way to help and mitigate the impact of the emotional trauma that is a part of daily life for these individuals. At a minimum, we could offer confidential screening and resources for those screening positive, such as employee assistance programs or local trained counselors. Ideally, we could screen and directly intervene. The authors report this is something they are working to implement in Chicago, Cook County.
By the way, the current pandemic has been hard on our community. If you need to talk, reach out. We are here.
Heroes in crisis: Trauma centers should be screening for and intervening on post-traumatic stress in our emergency responders. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2020 Mar 14. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002671. [Epub ahead of print]
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