K9s For Warriors – PTSD in Veterans and First Responders

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In honor of Veterans Day, we at EHP wanted to highlight a program being implemented for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

What is PTSD?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event.” PTSD is a condition that is unfortunately often seen in veterans as well as first responders. The International Association of Fire Fighters estimates that upward of 20 percent of firefighters and EMS responders currently have PTSD – adding up to around 50 thousand EMTs and Paramedics suffering from this disorder. PTSD symptoms are defined as the following recurring over one month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom: flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts
  • At least one avoidance symptom: avoiding places, events, or even thoughts related to the traumatic event
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms: a usually consistent feeling of being tense, on edge, or having angry outbursts
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms: negative thoughts and loss of interest in enjoyable activities

 

A New Treatment Approach

While there are numerous pharmaceutical, auditory, and cognitive therapies for PTSD, many individuals suffering from the disorder are looking toward new treatment options to ease their symptoms.

K9s for Warriors is an organization in Ponte Vedra, FL that has been pairing rescue dogs with traumatized soldiers since 2011. In addition to being service animals, the dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that aid in quieting the symptoms of war trauma in soldiers. It’s been found that veterans paired with service dogs had “lower depression, lower PTSD symptoms, lower levels of anxiety, and lower absenteeism from work due to health issues” (O’Haire, K9s for Warriors, 2018).

Due to the significant impact on PTSD symptoms, service animals are an innovative approach that could lead to long-term results for a serious medical issue.

K9s for Warriors is one of many organizations working to connect veterans and first responders with the much needed, life-saving benefits of a service animal. Organizations that connect service dogs with first responders include Operation OverwatchGot Your Six Support DogsHero Pups, and Dogs Helping Heroes.

 

Accessible Treatment Options

While the service animals are not available for everyone suffering from PTSD, we encourage anyone struggling with possible PTSD symptoms to ask for help. In order to be fit for duty, taking care of your mental health and self-care are imperative. Taking control of your own mental health allows you to be the best person and EMS provider you can be.

  • Self Help
    • Have a personal mental health checklist, “Am I taking care of my needs? Am I eating, sleeping, and staying hydrated? Am I truly ok?”
    • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to do “Box Breathing”, which can be an exceptional stress reducer for anxiety issues, including PTSD: Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, repeat.
    • Have a trusted peer or supervisor you can talk to – asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s OK not to be OK.
  • EHP Employee Resources
    • EHP employees who have experienced a stressful or traumatic call, or are experiencing symptoms of PTSD should talk to their supervisor or VP about attending a Critical Incident Stress Management meeting – we want all our employees to feel comfortable asking for help and to feel like they have someone to turn to.
    • Employee Assistance Program – this is an anonymous service that can connect employees to resources that can help with a variety of issues. More information about the EAP is on the staff intranet.
  • Resources for First Responders
    • 9-1-1 Buddy Check Project: A project aimed at raising awareness around first responder PTSD and providing resources for those in need. They have compiled a list of phone and text resources for first responders suffering from mental health, substance abuse, or other personal issues.
    • The Uniformed Peer Services Council is an organization that connects first responders and veterans with a wide variety of services, including resources for uninsured or underinsured individuals. They also have a list of resources for first responders.
    • Serve and Protect connects first responders with trauma specialists who are familiar with public safety.
  • Other resources
    • 7 Cups Chatline: An anonymous chatline that connects you with trained counselors, including those specializing in PTSD.
    • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Not specifically for first responders, but they are available anyone who needs help.
    • Counseling and Chaplain services – talk with your medical provider or clergy person about connecting with counseling and chaplain specific to first responders.

 

What can you do for a co-worker who needs help?

If you are concerned a co-worker is exhibiting signs of PTSD, there are ways you can reach out and help them. In all areas of public safety, coworkers are as close as family, its imperative we look out for their well-being.

  • Reach out to your coworker – be calm and nonaccusatory. Tell them you’re worried about them.
  • Tell them you’re always available to talk. Make sure they have your cell phone number.
  • Be prepared for pushback, even from people you’re close to. Don’t take offense to it. Just let them know you are there for them.
  • Keep anything your coworker tells you confidential – nothing will break their trust quicker than knowing your conversations are being shared with others.
  • Don’t escalate the conversation unless you feel their well-being or safety are at risk.

 

Breaking the Silence

PTSD is a condition that can affect anyone, but those who work in professions prone to stress or trauma are more likely to experience PTSD symptoms. We want to look out for the well-being of all our employees. Our goal is to end the stigma around first responders asking for help – if you need help, please reach out! We’re here to listen.

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