Emergency Dispatchers and PTSD


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder caused by exposure to emotionally intense situations that the brain cannot process properly.

Some of the most common examples of traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD include:
  • Battlefield violence
  • Exposure to trauma that occurs to people around you
  • Natural disasters
  • The unexpected death of friend or loved one
  • Severe auto accidents
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Rape
  • Exposure to extreme death or suffering (first responders, aid workers, etc)
  • Family violence

Traumas are not always one-time life-shattering events. The mental health community recognizes the potential for lower-level stressors to cause PTSD symptoms, when they are experienced repeatedly. The cumulative effect of ongoing emotional anxiety can be as destructive as one-time exposure to extreme danger or death. Emergency dispatchers who are exposed to a constant stream of other people’s crises may begin to notice symptoms of PTSD.

The Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Responders

The effects of PTSD vary greatly. In some cases, trauma effects build until the individual reaches a breaking point. In other cases, the symptoms slowly develop over an extended period of time. Often the sufferer does not connect the dots between their accumulated stress and their increasing symptoms because no one experience puts them over the edge.

Whether experienced suddenly or gradually, the more subtle symptoms of PTSD may (or may not) include:
  • Persistent anxiety
  • A sensitive startle response
  • Emotional distance
  • Panic attacks
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anger management issues
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate, focus or be “present”
  • Avoidance of previously enjoyable experiences
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • A desire to numb feelings with drugs or alcohol

It is not uncommon for people who suffer from either acute or cumulative PTSD to treat their symptoms through alcohol or drug abuse.

Emergency dispatchers and first responders may feel tempted to use alcohol or substances to unwind after a stressful shift or a particularly traumatic event. The brain recognizes the short-term relief these substances offer and then craves it on a repeated basis.

Successfully Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

The symptoms of PTSD can be reduced or eliminated, if the individual can process the pent-up emotions in a healthy way.

This requires professional treatment that involves one or more of the following:
  • Supportive psychotherapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Group counseling and support sessions
  • 12-step and other addiction recovery resources when needed
  • Medical treatment

Trauma affects the emotional processes of the brain in much the same way a lightning strike affects an electronic circuit board. When the brain cannot cope with a particularly stressful experience or series of experiences, it tends to try all methods to feel better. This can lead to avoidance, feelings of numbness, exhaustion, and career burnout.

Therapy can help all trauma survivors process previous experiences so that they can regain their health and relationships. This can take time and may involve several different treatment approaches, but effective help is available to all people.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Help for Emergency Dispatchers

If you are an emergency dispatcher and are experiencing PTSD symptoms, please call our toll-free helpline. Our recovery professionals can answer your questions and put you in touch with the best PTSD treatment for your specific needs. Don’t carry this burden alone. We understand the stress you have experienced, and we are here to help you find the healing you need. Call today.