Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in EMS
Recognizing and Supporting EMS Providers with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
By Meredith M. O’Neal, MA; Simone Joannou, MA; and James Langabeer, PhD, EMT
About 30 percent of first responders develop mental health disorders, including depression, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population.3 Another common occupational risk factor includes acute and chronic exposure to both primary and secondary trauma, the latter referring to the phenomenon of emotional and moral attachment to the experience of the individuals they rescue.
These overwhelming demands from first responders can lead to compassion fatigue, a depleted capacity for empathy that results in various behavioral issues including depression and anxiety. Burnout is a similar phenomenon of exhaustion resulting from occupational strain such as overwork and lack of support from leadership. These conditions have been found to directly contribute to the more than doubled suicide rates among medics than other professionals.