The holiday season is often synonymous with joy, festivities, and togetherness. However, for many first responders, this time of year can bring unique challenges, particularly for those grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s crucial to acknowledge the silent struggles faced by those who dedicate their lives to helping others.
The Weight of the Job
First responders, including police officers, firefighters, and paramedics witness traumatic events on a regular basis. These experiences can leave lasting emotional scars, leading to the development of PTSD. The holiday season, with its heightened emotions and expectations, can act as a trigger, intensifying the symptoms and making it even more challenging for emergency service workers to cope.
Isolation during the Festivities
The demands of the job often force first responders to spend the holidays away from their families. The separation, coupled with the nature of their work, can lead to a sense of isolation. For those grappling with elevated stress and anxiety, this isolation can amplify feelings of loneliness and exacerbate the impact of their condition.
The holiday season comes with its own set of triggers – from fireworks on New Year’s Eve to the heightened emotions associated with family gatherings. For first responders with PTSD, these triggers can evoke memories of traumatic incidents, leading to an emotional and/or physical response. It’s important for both individuals and their loved ones to recognize these triggers and work together to create a supportive environment.
The Importance of Support
During this time of year, it’s crucial for first responders to have a strong support system in place. This may include friends, family, colleagues, and mental health professionals. Creating an open and non-judgmental space for communication can make a significant difference in helping individuals cope with the challenges associated with PTSD during the holidays.
Raising awareness about the impact of PTSD on first responders is vital for fostering understanding and empathy. Society plays a crucial role in supporting those who dedicate their lives to public service. By acknowledging the unique struggles faced by the community we serve during the holidays, we can help create a more compassionate and inclusive environment for everyone.
For first responders, self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. During the holidays, it becomes even more critical to prioritize mental health. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time outside, can be beneficial.
Here are some resources that can help to get you started finding the support for caring for your mental health:
- NAMI Frontline Wellness: Mental health resources for first responders
- Understanding PTSD from the Mayo Clinic
- National Institute of Mental Health on PTSD treatment
- International Association of Fire Fighters Recovery Center
- Copline Crisis Line: 1-800-COPLINE (800-267-5463)
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Ways to support someone struggling with PTSD
Have a plan
Ask them how you can communicate with them about what happens at work. Establish boundaries and norms. Let them know you are there to support them, and commit to this support.
Check in: Do this in a calm moment outside of conflict or stressful situations. If they do not want to talk, do not force them, but let them know you are available to listen.
Know the resources available
Find out what mental health resources this person has access to. Provide encouragement in accessing these resources and remain positive, reinforcing that there is not a stigma to accessing help.
Acknowledge the challenges
Recognizing when someone is struggling can be difficult for both the person experiencing hardship and their family members. Emergency workers are expected to exercise a high degree of emotional control and may create a barrier for them to share their struggles.
Find support for yourself and family
Being a family member, partner, or friend of a first responder can come with unique challenges and expectations. Finding space and support where you can talk about your experiences can help you maintain your own mental health and well-being.
While the holidays are a time of celebration for many, it’s essential to recognize and address the unique challenges faced by first responders with PTSD. By building a culture of support, understanding, and awareness, we can help make the holiday season a little brighter for those who have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting others.
Editor’s Note: The author of this post, D.S. Ahrens, has several family members that work in emergency services and knows first-hand the toll PTSD can take on first responders and their families.
D.S. Ahrens is a Media Designer with the Fire & Police Pension Association. In his spare time, he is a painter, film buff, and mental health advocate.