Emergency first responders pursue a stressful profession that takes both a physical and emotional toll. The physical injuries heal with treatment and time. But emotional wounds require more time and different care. Firefighters and paramedics encounter human tragedy as a normal course of their work, leaving emotional scars that heal more slowly.The post-traumatic stress disorder that they experience requires highly specialized treatment tending to behavioral health needs. Now many first responders will have access to it.
Advanced Recovery Systems, a behavioral healthcare management company, has partnered with the International Association of Fire Fighters to construct a new residential treatment center just outside of Washington, D.C. The new IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery will diagnose first responders and offer peer counseling and other treatments. This new center will exclusively serve the more than 300,000 frontline emergency responders represented by the IAFF.
Exposure to human trauma – the risks that they face and the injuries that they encounter in the people they save – can cause ongoing first responders to experience their own emotional trauma, the IAFF says.
The occurrence of PTSD is comparable to the rates of such injury found in military veterans. According to IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger, an estimated 20 percent of firefighters have struggled with PTSD. Furthermore, firefighters and paramedics experience the condition at two times the rate of the general population.
Diagnosing and treating PTSD is important because it can avoid other problems. “People with PTSD also often develop co-occurring clinical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse,” Schaitberger said.
The new treatment center will employ a staff of behavioral health professionals who have particular knowledge of and experience with the needs of firefighters and paramedics. In addition to offering treatment to first responders, the IAFF says the center will also serve as a testing ground, from which protocols can be developed to show fire departments how to manage behavioral health issues. It will also be a site for peer support. Those in treatment will have the opportunity to speak with others who have gone through similar experiences and challenges.
The 58-bed center will offer these services on a 15-acre campus that includes a gymnasium and other amenities that encourage physical activity. When residents are ready to transition from treatment into family and work life, the center provide connections to programs and services that help the recovery process continue at home.
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