Mental health awareness: military and first responders


First responders and military personnel are regularly exposed to traumatic events in the course of their duties. They often have to make life and death decisions in a fraction of a second, with very slim margins for error. As such, these men and women are at increased risk for behavioral health issues and long-term problems from traumatic stress.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness lists the following conditions as concerns for those serving in the military.

It is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health problems during their time on duty. The mental health issues below also apply to first responders.

Mental health problems

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, disaster or sexual assault can have lasting negative effects such as sleep disturbances, anger, nightmares, mood swings and abuse. alcohol and drugs. When these problems don’t go away, it could be PTSD. The 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study found that the rate of PTSD was 15 times higher than that of civilians.

According to a Harvard Review of Psychiatry article, “Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has produced current estimates for the development of PTSD in first responders after occupational exposure to traumatic events. These data come mainly from small-scale retrospective studies using self-report measures, rather than clinical diagnostic interviews. Thus, the results should be interpreted judiciously. Nonetheless, cumulative range estimates can serve as potentially reliable indicators of PTSD prevalence. Studies show that LEOs develop PTSD at rates ranging from 6% to 32%, paramedics at rates ranging from 9% to 22%, and firefighters at rates ranging from 17% to 32%. In contrast, about 7% to 12% of adults in the United States will develop PTSD at some point in their life. “

  • Depression. More than living on sadness, depression doesn’t mean you are weak, nor does it mean something you can just “get over”. Depression interferes with daily life and normal functioning and may require treatment. The 2014 JAMA Psychiatry study found that the rate of depression was five times that of civilians.
  • Brain trauma (TBI). Traumatic brain injury is usually the result of a severe blow to the head or body. Symptoms may include headache, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems, and mood swings and mood swings.

In addition to the mental health issues provided by NAMI, anxiety is also a concern for first responders and military service members are at risk.

  • Anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety that last six months or more usually qualify for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or phobia. The specific symptoms vary depending on the disorder, but can include intense fears of specific places or things, intrusive obsessive thoughts, disturbed sleeping and eating habits, substance abuse, etc.

Secondary trauma

Exposure to the traumatic experiences of others, known as secondary or indirect trauma, is an inevitable challenge for first responders. 911 carriers are particularly prone to secondary trauma.

Dealing with the effects of trauma from others can be exhausting and can have lasting negative effects. Personal care, peer support and counseling are some of the ways to lessen the impact of secondary trauma.


There isn’t a single reason why people drink or use drugs. There are many risk factors that can make addiction more likely. When a person turns to alcohol or drugs for the purpose of self-medication, they are more likely to become dependent on that substance than one who is a recreational user.


a Article on American addiction centers states that “research on military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that deployments and exposure to combat are correlated with increased alcohol consumption, binge drinking and other problems related to the alcohol. In 2015, 30% of servicemen on active duty were heavy drinkers. Just over a third engaged in unsafe drinking behaviors or met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

“In 2015, less than 1% of active duty military personnel in all branches reported illicit drug use,” says the American Addiction Centers.

However, the AAC article continues, “The rates of prescription drug abuse are similar to those in the general population. In just 8 years between 2001 and 2009, the number of analgesic prescriptions written by military doctors has quadrupled.

First responders

Mental health issues can cause vulnerable first responders to turn to drugs and / or alcohol to cope and mask their pain. The continued stigma surrounding mental health can also make first responders more resistant to treatment than the general population.

According to Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, “Alcohol is the most common substance consumed by first responders, [especially those] with PTSD. There are many different reasons for this, and the main one is that alcohol and drinking are socializing events. First responders who share the testimony of traumatic events often drink together as a form of stress relief and a way to bond after the trauma. “

“A recent study from the University of Arizona found that rates of alcohol abuse and addiction increased as study participants worked for a long time as police officers,” Mission Harbor Behavioral Health continued. . “Recruits who join the force and report 0% will experience a build-up of stress on the job. After two years, 27% of recruits develop an alcohol use disorder. After four years in the force, that number drops to 36%. The study also found that alcohol consumption is a deeply rooted element in the culture of the police force. “

Mission Harbor Behavioral Health states that “The United States Firefighters Association estimates that 10% of all firefighters abuse drugs. 29% of firefighters abuse alcohol. Compared to 2013 statistics which indicated that 6.6% of the general population has abused alcohol. “

The US Substance Abuse Centers reported that “Drug abuse is much higher among paramedics and paramedics compared to other emergency responder professions. Limited research has yet to determine why, but it is believed to be a combination of factors, including easy access to potent and addictive prescription drugs and levels of exposure to a drug. high stress.


The treatment of first responders and military personnel is the same as that of the general population. However, many agencies have internal or regional resources that their members can use as needed. These resources are specialized and often have retired law enforcement, firefighters, ambulance attendants or soldiers.

Immediate help:

If you or someone you know is in crisis, know that someone is always available. No one fights alone.

Pierce County Crisis Line – Tel. : 1 (800) 576-7764

King County Crisis Line – Ph: (206) 461-3222 or 1 (800) 244-5767

The national lifeline for suicide prevention – 1-800-273-8255.
The national lifeline for suicide prevention (ESP) –1-888-628-9454
The national lifeline for suicide prevention (Options for the deaf and hard of hearing) – 1-800-799-4889
The national lifeline for suicide prevention To discuss

Crisis text line – Text HOME to 741741 in the United States

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

King County Sexual Assault Resource Line: 1-888-998-6423

Pierce County Sexual Assault Center: 1-800-756-7273

National Hotline Against Domestic Abuse: 1-800-799-7233
National Hotline Against Domestic Abuse (ATS): 1-800-787-3224

Network of women victims of domestic violence (King County) – 425-656-7867

The Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255, Press 1.

Call Securely Now – 1-206-459-3020
Safe Call Now is a 24/7 helpline of first responders for first responders and their family members. They can help with treatment options for caregivers who suffer from mental health, addiction and other personal issues.

Fire helpline / EMS: 1-888-731-FEU (3473)

The Trevor lifeline1-866-488-7386.
TrevorChat can be found at (available 7 days a week from 3 p.m. To 10 p.m. HEY).
TrevorText can be contacted by sending an SMS to TREVOR 1-202-304-1200 (available MF from 3 p.m. To 10 p.m. HEY).
The Trevor project is a national organization that provides a 24-hour helpline, as well as time-limited online chat and text options, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

The Trans Life Line – 1-877-565-8860.
The Trans lifeline is a non-profit organization created by and for the transgender community, providing crisis intervention helplines, staffed by transgender people, available in the United States and Canada.

Washington Recovery Helpline – 1-866-789-1511
WA recovery cat:
The Washington Recovery Help Line is a Crisis connections. We provide 24 hour anonymous and confidential telephone support for residents of Washington State. Our services include crisis intervention and referral assistance related to substance use disorders, problem gambling and mental health issues. Professionally trained volunteers and staff provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources or additional community services.

Reddit Suicide Support: list of local helplines for the 50 states:
Suicide Survivor Support Groups:

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