First responders are the most vulnerable to stress and trauma related disorders as they witness atrocious incidents and natural calamities, and are entrusted with the greatest responsibility of saving lives. The effect of witnessing terrible rescue operations can overwhelm their mind. They may experience emotional trauma that may leave them reliving horrific scenes repeatedly. They may remain in a state of shock, denial and anguish for days and months as they try to make sense out of the whole episode. They who put their lives in the line of fire every day to protect the community and undergo life-threatening situations.
Firefighters belong to this community for their selfless service in helping people without the desire of any rewards despite the risk to their lives. Firefighting is an extremely difficult job and was voted as the most stressful profession in 2015 by the Forbes magazine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates of those in the protective service occupations such as firefighters and police are 3.5 times greater than the overall U.S. worker. The rate of attempted suicide among firefighters is generally higher than the general population often due to post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). Many resort to alcohol or drug abuse to numb the effect of what they witness and feel.
The associated job stressors such as rotating schedules, inadequate training, lack of sleep, technical glitches, bad crews, malicious coworkers, inconsistent policies and poor leadership along with the traumatic experiences of witnessing gruesome incidents on the job, leads to emotional trauma and diminished job satisfaction. According to the National Firefighters Foundation report, in any given year, death from suicide is more likely to occur than a line-of-duty death among their crew members.
Worker’s compensation for PTSD under Florida law
Although physical injuries are covered under worker’s compensation, mental or nervous injury is not considered as workplace injury under Florida’s State law unless it is accompanied by a physical injury. Therefore, first responders are only eligible for lost wages if their PTSD diagnosis is accompanied by a corresponding physical disability, although from 2007 onwards, they have become eligible to obtain medical benefits even without physical injuries. A new law is determined to improve their condition.
Two bills in favor of expanding benefits to first responders affected by PTSD have been introduced in the Florida legislature. The first that has been unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee would provide full worker’s compensation insurance benefits to first responders suffering from PTSD even without physical injuries. The second bill however imposes certain restrictions on availing the benefits – the first responder seeking compensation for PTSD diagnosis is required to have witnessed a suicide, murder, fatal injury, a child’s death or a scene of mass casualties, and that the treatment should begin within 15 days of the incident.
The second bill is still being debated due to its restrictions, especially since first responders are generally called to the scene in the aftermath of a murder, death or suicide. Hence, the term “witness” is unduly unreasonable. Besides, PTSD and other post-trauma mental health issues can be tricky to identify as it builds up over time and may get diagnosed many years down the line either from one event or from a series of events.
Treatment for PTSD
Many people suffering from a mental illness find it difficult to come forward due to the fear of being judged as weak. They fear they will be ostracized and ridiculed and therefore, choose to suffer in silence. Many other do not recognize the symptoms until it is too late to recover completely. It is crucial that there should be more talks and policies about mental health to make it an approachable subject. This will help the concerned authorities in devising better prevention strategies and increasing access to mental health care services for all.
If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental illness, contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline to get connected to the best Florida mental health rehab center. Call us at our 24/7 helpline (866) 846-5588 or chat online to get more information.