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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I cope with PTSD working as a Firefighter?

    I have suffered for 4-5 years. Developed dreams of many persons either died because of a house fire, or Vehicle Accidents. I would be ok for a while then for no reason would cry then go away from people, to be by myself. There would be many VA's, but the 20 plus deaths were the worst.
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  • Uta Herzog

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Not taking new referrals until September 2015. Uta Herzog is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and … View Profile

    I am sorry to read about your struggles with the aftermath of so many traumatic events in your life.

    PTSD is treatable, but you have not indicated whether you are still working actively as a firefighter.

    A ground rule of successful treatment is that you are not exposed to further trauma, especially of a similar kind.

    Dealing with PTSD of the kind you are describing does require professional intervention.
    I suggest you log on to the APS website's referral service under the following link: http://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/Default.aspx?ID=1204 
    Scroll down on the “issues” and click on “PTSD” and complete all the other information as required. The referral service will give you 3 names of practitioners in your area.

    You should ring each one and find out how long they have specialized in PTSD and what their training has been. Obviously you want a psychologist who is very experienced!

    The most effective therapy falls under the umbrella of “exposure therapy”, of which there are several different types. One effective and comparatively “fast” intervention is EMDR. You can search for experienced EMDR therapists on the website of EMDRAA http://emdraa.org/ by simply typing in your postcode.

    You may be able to get financial support for the therapy from the organization/s you work/ed for, or you may get a doctor's referral to obtain a Medicare rebate for up to 10 sessions per calendar year.

    However, given the number of incidents you were involved in I would estimate that you would require more than 10 sessions.

    Please also be mindful that PTSD can become harder to treat over time, so finding help sooner is better than later!

    Best wishes,

    Uta 

  • Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and … View Profile

    Dreaming about jobs you have been to, being emotionally overwhelmed and withdrawing from others are all common responses to traumatic events, especially if you work as a first responder. Fire fighters, like other first responders (e.g. police and paramedics), have considerably higher rates of trauma exposure than the general public and they are also subject to ongoing trauma. Additionally, first responders seldom speak out about their difficulties because first responder organisational cultures stigmatize emotion as weakness. As a result, those experiencing difficulties often suffer in silence for too long before seeking help.

    The longer you struggle alone the more difficult and more unsustainable work will be and you’ll probably find your home life, relationships and social life all begin to change. You sound like you are struggling; don’t struggle alone. See your doctor and ask for a referral to a psychologist who specializes in treating trauma. Also ask your doctor if they know of a psychologist who has experience with treating first responders.

    There are well documented, evidence based therapies that we know dramatically improve trauma symptoms. For example the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (see http://www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/trauma/treatment.html). There is also a great smart phone App that will give you some information and strategies directly aimed at trauma. Download the free App called PTSD Coach Australia. It was developed for the military but applies very well to first responders too.

    I wish you all the best.

  • 1

    Agree

    Dr Pek Ang

    Psychiatrist

    Specialist Psychiatrist - management of Depression and Anxiety Disorders, PTSD, Bipolar, ADHD, Autism, Mood and Anger problems and Personality Disorders. Management of Psychological problems associated … View Profile

    Great that you have asked for advice.  Often the biggest barrier is letting people know as you might feel that some may not understand or think you should be able to cope ..... no matter what.

    Agree with the posts so far.  It sounds like it is work related.  So you could confidentially ask your Union representative what steps to follow to access help [as there will be many before you who already have sought and are receiving help..............and you may or may not know them].

    You will be seeing your GP to let them know what you are experiencing and at some stage it would be good to have your partner attend also so they can understand what you are going through.  The impact on relationships and home life can be puzzling to family members unless they understand it's not you but something happening to you.

    There are important Psychological Treatments that work.  Also medications can help a great deal for sleep, emotional outbursts and even dreams.  Your GP can help you to start with.  Often a  referral to a Psychiatrist is needed.  Talk to your GP and Union as work may help in your treatment if you choose to follow that path or privately.

    All the best.  THere are effective treatments in combination when you see a GP, Psychologist and Psychiatrist.

    Your job may need to change to a role which is not frontline.

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