First to respond, last to seek help? Are you working in a fast-paced environment that limits the opportunity to express your feelings about what you see? Maintaining a distance between patients and themselves may aid first responders and other medical professionals in maintaining their composure in the worst situations, however continued exposure to trauma can be cumulative and may cause problems. The longer one has worked as a first responder, the more likely he or she is to have a reaction to trauma.
Signs it may be time to seek help include hyper-arousal (anxiety, insomnia, irritability, fear), avoidance (withdrawal and isolation, avoiding reminders of events), intrusions (repetitive thoughts of events, nightmares, flashbacks), or psychic numbing (feeling numb, spacing out, a sense things are not real, use of substances to avoid feelings). Other signs may be dreading your job and questioning why you went into the field, symptoms interfering with your enjoyment of things you used to love, or a changed perspective of the world. Counseling can help. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
As a former first responder with several years’ experience working in the San Francisco Bay Area, I understand that first responder culture can inhibit seeking support. It can be difficult to admit as someone who always provides assistance, that we may also be someone who needs help. I have a deep respect and understanding of the courage it may take for someone in this position to reach out. I enjoy helping other former or current first responders reconnect with life and work towards healing, a process I am familiar with myself.