Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is normally associated with soldiers coming home from battle, but experts say anyone who has experienced trauma can develop the condition.
After last week’s shooting in Sandy, many are focusing on the trauma first responders experience on the job.
While many witnessed the shooting in Sandy, the majority of people were kept far away behind crime scene tape.
But for police… their job called for them to document every inch of the crime scene while the bodies of the diseased remained on scene.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything effect our department the way this has,” said Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker.
Chief Thacker says he worries about the trauma his officers went through and hopes it won’t lead to worsening problems like PTSD.
Dr. Craig Bryan is an expert in PTSD, and his teams research has made serious breakthroughs on how people are treated for the disorder. He notes first responders can often have different reactions in behavior than soldiers. It often stems from a feeling that they could have done more.
“So the person regrets the decisions they’ve made they blame themselves or they question the goodness of humanity as a whole. This can cause them to experience a lot of despair a lot of sadness,” said Dr. Bryan, Executive Director for the National Center for Veteran Studies.
That was the feeling firefighter and paramedic Steven Schmidt felt during a call in his career when he wasn’t able to revive a small child.
Although a report weeks later found there was nothing he could have done, the experience stuck with him for years.
“I could just remember breaking down, I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know why for a very long time after I would find myself breaking down and I didn’t understand it,” said Steven Schmidt, firefighter-paramedic.
For others not even the passing of time could wipe away the trauma they saw firsthand.
“One of the very first tasks I was involved with was searching and determining the victims of those five victims. I will never forget where I found those victims and how they were positioned,” said Cpt. Mike Greensides with Unified Fire Authority.
Schmidt, Greensides, and others have led an effort for the last six months to give an outlet for fellow Unified Fire Fighters to reach out for help. Research has shown talking about how someone feels about the trauma they experienced, can be the fastest way to recovery.
“One of the very first things you have to do is let them know it’s okay that you’re feeling this way.”
Greensides notes the change might not be easy for some, especially in an industry which in the past has prided itself on being tough and not talking about your feelings.
“This is monumental for us really because so often it’s really been almost frowned upon across our industry to even talk about these issues,” said Greensides.
Several agencies are coming up with protocols that help responders get ahead of these issues. They often include talking about the traumatic incident shortly after it happens. Doctors say several new treatments are successfully helping cure people of their PTSD.