A new study suggests approximately 90 percent of Israeli firefighters have some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Marc Lougassi, a firefighter himself and a doctoral student, discovered 24 percent of active firefighters in Israel suffer from full PTSD, 67 percent display partial PTSD while only nine percent showed no symptoms.
As a result of the research, investigators believe the experience of recurring trauma is a significant factor toward developing PTSD.
PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event including injury to oneself or another, or another’s death. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
According to Lougassi, “Professional firefighters are frequently exposed to extreme stress during their work in emergency situations. In addition to the physical challenges of firefighting, they must evacuate burned and injured victims or bodies.
“Their involvement in traumatic events exposes them not only to the pressures stemming from the traumatic event itself, but also to post-traumatic emotional expressions that result in secondary traumatization.”
“As far as Israeli firefighters are concerned, there has been no documented evidence of PTSD prevalence, despite the fact that they are exposed to additional traumas such as war and terror strikes,” said Lougassi.
Lougassi recruited 342 active firefighters from all age groups, marital statuses (single, married, divorced), educational backgrounds, seniority levels (over two years), roles (firefighter, crew leader, officer, service commander, etc.).
Firefighters with a psychiatric background, head injuries (loss of consciousness and neurological disturbances), in psychiatric and/or psychological treatment, with chronic diseases and those taking medications on a regular basis were excluded from the sample.
A control group consisted of 42 firefighters from flight firefighting services at Ben-Gurion Airport, since firefighters are not exposed to similar events. Only five percent of the control group showed signs of PTSD.
“These results support the hypothesis that increased exposure to recurring traumatizing events is a significant factor contributing to PTSD development,” according to Lougassi.
Researchers believe the findings suggest professional intervention programs may be implemented to improve the firefighters’ abilities to cope with extended exposure to traumatizing events.
Lougassi believes the results can also help the Israeli Firefighting Services develop appropriate screening tools to be used during the recruiting process of new firefighters in order to assure their future psychological safety.