COVID-19 and Its Psychological Effects on Firefighters and First Responders

July 22, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce, Engagement & Morale, Health and Wellness

Last modified July 23, 2020

According to this article from Fire Engineering, a variety of mental health issues can affect first responders, and their effects are wide-ranging. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by any combination of anxiety, avoidance, hyper-awareness, changes in mood or beliefs, and anger sustained over a period of several months, is the most commonly associated condition.

Delayed stress syndromes, where psychological trauma is not recognized until after the event (i.e., following a prolonged search and rescue operation) or resulting from protracted stress without decompression (such as repeated 24-hour shifts) is another common issue. Eating and sleeping disorders, apathy, mood swings, changes in or lack of interests, and substance abuse are other problems plaguing emergency personnel. While understood as existing issues, how does the COVID-19 crisis amplify them?

Some within the FDNY associate recent deaths with the impact the pandemic has had on the first responder community, particularly with regard to mental health. COVID-19 in particular has proven to be particularly exhausting physically, mentally, and spiritually. These cases are sad reminders of the psychological costs many of our fellow brothers and sisters endure and how the current crises is amplifying those issues.

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