The Facts

All Information in this section is taken from SAMHSA First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma

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- It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population (Abbot et al., 2015). In a study about suicidality, firefighters were reported to have higher attempt and ideation rates than the general population (Stanley et al., 2016). In law enforcement, the estimates suggest between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year (Badge of Life, 2016).

- First responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations. They are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support to them. These duties, although essential to the entire community, are strenuous to first responders and with time put them at an increased risk of trauma.

- First responders involved in these occupations are exposed to hazards inherent in the nature of their jobs (Plat, Frings-Dresen, & Sluiter, 2011). Examples include exposure (direct or indirect) to death, grief, injury, pain, or loss as well as direct exposure to threats to personal safety, long hours of work, frequent shifts and longer shift hours, poor sleep, physical hardships, and other negative experiences (Botha, Gwin, & Purpora, 2015; Heavey et al., 2015; Marmar et al., 2006; Patterson et al., 2012; Quevillon, Gray, Erickson, Gonzalez, & Jacobs, 2016).

- 28 percent for feeling life is not worth living, 10.4 percent for serious suicidal ideation, and 3.1 percent for a past suicide attempt (Stanley, Hom, & Joiner, 2016). In another study in the same review, it was found that having both EMS and firefighting duties was associated with a sixfold increase in the likelihood of reporting a suicide attempt as compared to firefighting alone (Stanley et al., 2016). In a separate study, Abbot et al. reported that 37 percent of fire and EMS professionals have contemplated suicide, nearly 10 times the rate of American adults (2015). In addition, 6.6 percent of fire and EMS professionals reported having attempted suicide as compared with just 0.5 percent of civilians.

- The nature of the work of firefighters, including repeated exposure to painful and provocative experiences and erratic sleep schedules, can pose significant risk to firefighters’ mental health (Stanley, Boffa, Hom, Kimbrel, & Joiner, 2017). To add to that risk, firefighters face many barriers to seeking help, including stigma and the cost of treatment.

- Stanley et al. found that career firefighters reported higher levels of problematic alcohol use and PTSD as compared to the volunteer firefighters, while the volunteers reported higher levels of depression and suicide attempts and ideations (Stanley et al., 2017)

- Depression has been reported in police officers. A study following police officers after the 9/11 attacks found a 24.7 percent prevalence of depression, and a 47.7 percent prevalence of both depression and anxiety (Bowler et al., 2016).

- In a study investigating alcohol use in police officers following Hurricane Katrina, there was a significant association between involvement in the hurricane relief efforts and hazardous alcohol drinking (Heavey et al., 2015). In another study, the average number of alcoholic drinks after Hurricane Katrina increased from 2 to 7 drinks per day (McCanlies et al., 2014).

- In a literature review, the lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation in police officers was 25 percent in female officers and 23.1 percent in male officers (Stanley et al., 2016)