Tampa Bay Times
By Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News
Published: July 9, 2018
The "first responders" who provide emergency aid have been hit hard not just by recent large-scale disasters but by the accumulation of stress and trauma over many years, research shows. Many studies have found elevated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among nurses, firefighters and paramedics. A 2016 report by the International Association of Fire Fighters found that firefighters and paramedics are exhibiting levels of PTSD similar to that of combat veterans.
Medical personnel tend to a victim after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The "first responders" who provide emergency aid have been hit hard not just by recent large-scale disasters but by the accumulation of stress and trauma over many years, research shows. [Sun Sentinel]The day a gunman fired into a crowd of 22,000 people at the country music festival in Las Vegas, hospital nursing supervisor Antoinette Mullan was focused on one thing: saving lives.
She recalls dead bodies on gurneys across the triage floor, a trauma bay full of victims. But "in that moment, we’re not aware of anything else but taking care of what’s in front of us," Mullan said.
Proud as she was of the work her team did, she calls it "the most horrific evening of my life" — the culmination of years of searing experiences she has tried to work through, mostly on her own.
"I can tell you that after 30 years, I still have emotional breakdowns and I never know when it’s going to hit me," said Mullan.
Calamities seem to be multiplying in recent years, including mass shootings, fires, hurricanes and mudslides. Just last month, a gunman burst into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., killing five journalists and injuring two others.
Many of the men and women who respond to these tragedies have become heroes and victims at once. Some firefighters, emergency medical providers, law enforcement officers and others say the scale, sadness and sometimes sheer gruesomeness of their experiences haunt them, leading to tearfulness and depression, job burnout, substance abuse, relationship problems, even suicide.
Many, like Mullan, are stoic, forgoing counseling even when it is offered.
"I don’t have this sense that I need to go and speak to someone," said Mullan. "Maybe I do, and I just don’t know it."
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