First Responders & Health Care Personnel: Recognizing PTSD in the Public

With each trauma that our country has experienced over the last number of years, the structure of our society has developed cracks and those cracks are being infused by a poisonous fog of fear, insecurity and suspicion. A sizeable portion of the population is most likely suffering from some level of current traumatic stress, or posttraumatic stress (PTSD).The question now is, do we work toward healing or allow the structure to crumble? There are many levels on which to work toward healing, from individuals working on themselves, relationship counseling and family therapy, designing buildings, cars, furniture, etc., to create a sense of peace and calm, all the way up to society-wide or large government intervention. I’ve written about some in the past—see my blog posts and articles in and (put in links).

One important area of influence has to do with first responders—police, fire services, ambulance EMT’s—and healthcare personnel at doctor’s offices and ER’s. How these people interact with others who are suffering from stress, trauma or PTSD is crucial to move our country in a healthy direction.

Given the increasing numbers of shootings mentioned in the media, there is an increase in the perception of danger floating around in the atmosphere, both on the part of first responders and health care personnel and in the general public. People are becoming increasingly mistrustful and fearful of each other. Police officers, for example, are suspicious of the public they come into contact with, and people are fearful of police officers. It’s important to realize that this intensifying of suspicion and fear are at least partially signs of traumatic stress and PTSD and the country as a whole.

 Recognizing Traumatic Stress and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress)

For police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s and healthcare personnel, it’s not always easy to recognize that someone is suffering from traumatic stress or PTSD. The person they’re dealing with could just seem to be causing trouble or being difficult. A lot of trouble and re-traumatizing of people can be avoided by recognizing symptoms and acting in ways that help vs. escalate.


Here are some signs that a person may be suffering from traumatic stress or posttraumatic stress (PTSD:

  1. Someone in a car running through an intersection with a stop sign or red light, or turning left when another is approaching too closely. Someone suddenly switching lanes in front of another car without seeming to notice the other car.
  2. When the person is stopped, a kind of dazed expression or quickly escalating to yelling or crying when confronted.
  3. The person not seeming to understand what the officer or EMT is saying. Asking questions that have already been answered.
  4. The person acting in a childlike or overly dependent manner.
  5. The person becoming easily angered or agitated.
  6. In a doctor’s office or the ER, someone continually going up to the counter to ask or demand to be seen quickly.
  7. In the ER, the patient not seeming to understand instructions being given.

How First Responders and Healthcare Personnel Can Help—vs. Escalate the Problem

  1. Be polite and respectful.
  2. Begin by and continue to speak slowly and quietly.
  3. Put yourself into the mindset that this is a person who may have been going through a difficult time; imagine if it were you—put yourself in their place and speak from that insight.
  4. Ask if the person is all right. Ask what happened to cause them to do what they did. Use a caring, authentically empathetic tone of voice.
  5. Avoid a tone of accusation, confrontation or sarcasm at all costs. Don’t be curt.
  6. If you need to give information or direction, give one piece of information at a time and ask the person if they understood. If not, ask them what they didn’t understand. Repeat the information incorporating the information you received about what was not understood. Don’t just repeat what you said in the same words as before.
  7. For ER personnel, if you give instructions to the patient, give them the instructions in written form as well. Ask them what they understood you to say. That way you can see if they understood you.

For more information on PTSD and traumatic stress and how to get help, see my page on Stress and Trauma. For first responder or healthcare organizations who would like training and information on how to heal from their own PTSD and traumatic stress or to be helpful to the public they come in contact with, see my page on Organizational Consulting.


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