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EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD

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Emergency Telecommunicators and PTSD Laura Chase

The need to for further research and implications are also discussed. By examining current literature focused on emergency personnel such as police and firefighters. . assumed causes and resolutions for PTSD in emergency telecommunicators were found. This population is extremely understudied and the lack of empirical literature is astounding.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 2 This paper provides information that examines PTSD as it relates to emergency telecommunicators.

The telecommunicators have a responsibility to provide assistance to these people in their time of need and often experience stress from this heavy burden. The telecommunicators are the first people to speak to those in need. A vast amount of PTSD research is available. crying. which leaves a basis of . Problem Statement An enormous hole exists in the literature regarding emergency telecommunicators and the way they process stressful and traumatic phone calls and radio transmissions. or any other number of tasks. Although emergency telecommunicators do not normally experience the call by seeing it. There is very little empirical research on the effects of trauma suffered by telecommunicators when handling stressful telephone and radio calls. hysterical. Emergency dispatchers’ PTSD and their depressive symptoms were examined (Lilly & Pierce. The job of emergency telecommunicator is not always chaotic and stressful. This stress and the traumatic phone calls or radio transmissions these employees must deal with daily can have a profound affect on their mental health. Gaining insight into this issue could have positive global implications. individuals who are difficult to understand. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more commonplace for this population than one realizes. angry. but has the potential to be without warning. dispatch 3 law enforcement to dangerous calls. However. or suicidal. confused. various causes and resolutions may have been found. give fire personnel safety information as they enter a burning building. 2012). There is a lack of information about this specific disorder and how it affects emergency telecommunicators.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD Emergency telecommunicators may be required to answer 911 calls. scared. they experience the call by hearing it.

The effects of PTSD on these emergency service providers could have affects that range from local to global. 2008). PTSD may affect people in different ways. and different ethnicity. DiCecco (2011) summarizes the disorder with a concentration on pathophysiology. The United States is not the only country with an emergency telecommunication system in place. diversity. understanding the disorder and its effects is crucial. but just how many is unknown. Wong. therefore. Kennedy. Gaining insight into an understudied public safety population could benefit the public not only nationally but also globally. social change. Marshall. different religious beliefs. Emergency communication centers may be comprised of a diverse group of employees with different cultural backgrounds. and the treatment of PTSD is discussed by Couineau and Forbes (2011). The diversity within communication centers can bring about challenges for researchers. and fire emergencies (Emergency numbers around the world. but examining the relationship between PTSD and telecommunicators seems to be the best one. One study examines anxiety sensitivity as it relates to PTSD (Wald & Taylor. The disorder certainly plagues some telecommunicators. 4 Critical considerations that may relate to this problem include globalism. care. For instance. medical. and legal issues. Several other nations have adopted a three-digit emergency number for law enforcement. a young man . 2006). and ethics. There are many avenues for researchers to go down.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD information to use. The same benefits that could be gained in the United States could be gained globally. and Gaillot (2011) examine PTSD in survivors of injury.

. Last. although there was a significant relationship between self-worth and peritraumatic distress. and peritraumatic distress. They also argue that benevolence of the world and self-worth are negatively correlated with symptoms of PTSD. Social change is possible if PTSD in emergency telecommunicators is examined by possibly allowing these individuals to obtain better health care and social awareness. whereas a new mother may become depressed and have difficulty sleeping at night. They examine depressive symptoms and PTSD in 911 telecommunicators as well as how that relates to world assumptions and peritraumatic distress. this study is a small glimpse at an area that needs much more attention. and if they are not functioning properly it could mean the safety of countless citizens. no significant relationship was present with depressive or PTSD symptoms. Although controllability was measured. controllability. selfworth. Variables measured in this study were PTSD symptoms. The research touches on this a bit but not nearly enough. Lilly and Pierce (2012) argue that PTSD and depressive symptoms are positively correlated with peritraumatic distress. With such an enormous hole in the literature about the 911 telecommunicator population. depressive symptoms. benevolence of the world. Critical Resource Review Lilly and Pierce (2012) have ventured into a territory in which little is known.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 5 may become angry and withdrawn. Researchers must keep these differences in mind. the authors found that there was no significant relationship between benevolence of the world and controllability with peritraumatic distress. These telecommunicators provide a public service.

Current sources related to these topics were available at the time and should have been used instead of the outdated sources. many of their sources provided a history of PTSD in police officers and firefighters as well as an overview and examples of other variables. it lacks the depth and information a longitudinal study may provide. Results reflect that the more perceived control a 911 telecommunicator had. especially cognitions related to control. For instance. In fact. (2011) discuss PTSD in firefighters as it relates to mindfulness. Although this cross-sectional study attempts to show a relationship between PTSD and depressive symptoms and other variables in 911 telecommunicators. much of the background provided the reason and understanding needed to tie in world assumptions with the rest of the study. the higher the correlation with PTSD . and Smith et al. They highlight that controllability was significantly related to PTSD symptoms and distress in a way they did not anticipate. LaFauci Schutt and Marotta (2011) examine predictors of PTSD in emergency management professionals.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD Although only 29% of the sources used by Lilly and Pierce were within the American Psychological Association (2010) suggested five-year time frame. Marshall. No study exists that examines 911 telecommunicators and how the process of PTSD affects them long-term. such as peritraumatic distress and benevolence of the world. However. the authors used outdated sources for statistical information about PTSD and depressive symptoms in 6 police officers and firefighters. and Miles (2010) examine PTSD symptoms and general distress relationships. Schell. Lilly and Pierce (2012) also found that emotion and cognition may also be predictors of PTSD in 911 telecommunicators and would be worth studying. These sources proved to be quite beneficial and informative.

and Delahanty (2011) examine alcohol use and how it moderates the relationship between PTSD and avoidance coping mechanisms. Bacharach. This study reveals a factual and very serious problem for the 911 telecommunicator population as well as a potential problem for society. and the article provides a different view on the mental health aspects of emergency personnel. The authors based their study on fact. This fact further solidifies the need for additional research. Fallon. Bamberger. Spoonster. . Sledjeski. Rutkow. not opinion.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 7 symptoms and distress. Both studies provide a different view of alcohol and how it may fit into the study of PTSD in 911 telecommunicators because the articles help fill in a hole in the literature. and Doveh (2008) examine alcohol use in firefighters. Gable. and Links (2011) examine the protection of first responder’s mental health and discuss reasons they may be hesitant to obtain mental health screening or any assistance with mental health problems. The majority of the authors’ sources are current. whereas Hruska. Because there is almost no empirical research on this population. and could analyze the data obtained as a result of their study in a clear and concise manner making it easy for the reader to understand. Perhaps this is because the 911 telecommunicator questions if he or she could have done something differently and may believe he or she is responsible for an inability to gain control of the call or the results of the call. but some are geared more toward the consequences of PTSD and other jobrelated stressors. there is difficulty when trying to compare and contrast this study with others that are similar. Various articles examine mental health of emergency personnel.

which can help explain predictors in 911 telecommunicators. Finally. However. Other resources will be examined to gather a better understanding of the research needed for such an understudied population. This literature gives a glimpse of the need for further research.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD McFarlane. and when those negative . Because very little empirical research exists. but interjects too much opinion into the article. However. 2011). so one can reason that they may be more at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than individuals who do not work in the public safety realm. further examination of consequences and preventative measures will be assessed. and society. Prager. (2006) examine PTSD predictors in first-responders. McCarley. and Barton (2009) review the literature associated with the general consequences of traumatic events experienced by emergency personnel. an abundant amount of information is available on the law enforcement and fire fighter populations. the consequences of PTSD in any type emergency services employee may be detrimental to the employee. Marmar et al. Williamson. Gable. but the information provided is from a presentation at the 8 Rocky Mountain Psychological Association Conference and lists no references. & Links. Therefore. the holes are plentiful. The consequences of PTSD can be quite negative (Lilly & Pierce. Telecommunicators are exposed to stress and trauma through telephone calls and radio transmissions every day. Literature Review Empirical research on the emergency telecommunicator population is extremely scarce. his or her department. and Sherry (2006) examine PTSD and burnout in first-responders. Rutkow. and there is difficulty in choosing which specific area to focus on. 2012.

Various consequences are examined. Bamberger. These articles were chosen because they contain information about the consequences of PTSD and how some of those consequences affect the lives of public safety personnel. They go on to say using alcohol as a coping mechanism may be partially caused by experiencing helplessness and horror on the job. 2011. PTSD. The literature was gathered from various databases in the Walden Online Library using keywords such as emergency. 2008).. which can affect his or her daily job performance. Bamberger. Backarach. & Doveh. Some individuals use drinking as a coping mechanism to relieve stress caused 9 by job-related trauma. and other first responder jobs (Violanti et al. firefighters. . The use of alcohol may have several negative consequences as some authors point out. and legal and ethical issues.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD outcomes are coupled with a responsibility to maintain public safety. and Doveh (2008) state alcohol abuse can impair a subject's behavior and cognitive ability. and how worldviews affect stressful outcomes. Although the authors are focusing on firefighters. Literature was reviewed in relation to the effects of PTSD on public safety personnel. and public safety. 911 telecommunicators also experience instances of horror and helplessness on the job through telephone calls and radio transmissions. Alcohol The four articles focus on public safety personnel and different problems associated with their mental health. legal considerations. whereas others are slowly integrated into a culture of consuming alcohol as a social norm. Alcohol consumption is a common theme in the world of law enforcement. Bacharach. the effects could be deadly. such as alcohol abuse.

and productivity are also examined. and others who respond to disasters or traumatic incidents share the increased risk of PTSD or other stress-related symptoms. police officers. Clearly. firefighters. The first. Clearly. Gable. more research is required to confirm these theories. however. other issues such as suicide. the literature that is available points to this conclusion. depression. first responders. Emergency telecommunicators are likely no different. in addition to an increased risk of PTSD. and Links (2011) examine stress-related outcomes that affect job performance and how worker's compensation fits into that picture. Firefighters. Another area of concern. and possibly most obvious cause is the experience of critical incidents. public safety is the biggest issue. Emergency Telecommunicators Although the only article is specifically related to emergency telecommunicators.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD Outcomes 10 The articles examined various outcomes from job-related stressors and PTSD as well. Not every state has worker's compensation laws that support first responders who suffer from PTSD or other mental health issues caused by on-the-job trauma. Police and fire personnel respond to motor . and other emergency personnel. Rutkow. All of the articles examined in this review state depression may be a symptom the trauma experienced while on the job of public safety personnel. Although there is not enough empirical research to confirm this theory. appears to be a potential risk for alcohol abuse. Critical Analysis Four main causes of PTSD were found while examining current literature on police. anxiety. and others related to emergency telecommunicators. each article contains information about individuals who work in the public safety realm.

or helplessness (Declercq. Lilly and Pierce (2012) found world assumptions in telecommunicators to predict PTSD significantly. Deheegher. Meganck. Kleim. 2008). 2011). 2012). if one believed the bad in the world outweighed the good and experienced a traumatic call. there were other associated relational predictors found in other sources such as stress and self-blame. and other traumatizing events. The third cause of PTSD is world assumptions and peritraumatic distress. 2011). Helplessness was found in both studies to be a factor for predicting PTSD. For instance. this combination was significant in predicting PTSD. suicides. The fourth main cause of PTSD was perceived social support. & Van Hoorde. violent incidents. Some responses involve anger. The severity of the critical incident may also have a bearing upon the onset of PTSD and the ways in which these subjects cope (Bacharach. and Lucksman (2012) show a relationship between the type of response to a traumatic event and PTSD and depression. Bamberger. Emergency telecommunicators interact with the callers hearing. Deheegher.. & Doveh. or experiencing these events. Although only one source listed this specific cause. Another cause of PTSD in emergency personnel is the response to the critical or traumatizing incident. Meganck. witnessing. firefighters reporting high . These critical incidents can have a significant impact on the onset of PTSD (Declercq. For example. horror. fear. Ehlers. World assumptions of self-worth were also significantly related to PTSD (Lilly & Pierce. Anger was found to be both a risk factor for PTSD and an effect of the disorder in police officers (Meffert et al. 2008).EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 11 vehicle crashes. & Van Hoorde.

Zimering. The third effect was burnout. burnout. 2011). Knight. and public safety were all significant effects of PTSD in emergency personnel. Andrew. Four articles showed alcohol use and PTSD commonly co-occurring (Bacharach. 2012). Charles. 2006). Prager. Slaven. & Neria. Violanti. four main effects of PTSD and the traumatic events associated with the disorder were found. depressive symptoms. Bamberger. 2011).EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 12 self-blame and perceiving social support as low showed a significant risk for PTSD and other related symptoms (Meyer. Violanti et al. Sledjeski. Burchfiel. & Glucksman. Spoonster. & Guliver. Studies indicate emergency personnel experiencing burnout may be experiencing a symptom of PTSD after a traumatic incident (McCarley. & Sherry. The traumatic events experienced by emergency personnel significantly increase the risk of alcoholism. Daly. 2012. Another effect of PTSD is depression. 2012. burnout is clearly related to PTSD as not only an effect but also as a cause. Smith. Although LaFauci Schutt and Marotta (2011) show a significant predictive value. Besser. & Delahantym 2011. Kamena. The fourth effect of PTSD in emergency personnel is the issue of public safety. Lilly & Pierce. emergency personnel may have feelings of hopelessness or negative self-appraisals coupled with PTSD symptoms. 2008. From these causes. as was shown by several studies (Kleim. The effects of the disorder are negative and with those negative effects come negative . Kamholz. Levin. Fallon. Hruska. Alcohol or substance abuse. After experiencing a traumatic event. Albert. Ehlers. 2012.. & Doveh. 2012. Depression and depressive symptoms are strongly related to PTSD. & Homish.

Burchfiel. 2012). Resolutions PTSD in emergency telecommunicators is a problem that has many possible resolutions. Dorn. Young. as can anger issues in police. When emergency telecommunicators take high stress calls or are involved in a particularly stressful situation on the radio. Hartley. Instead. 2006. Certain populations such as law enforcement and firefighters have a higher occurrence of the disorder. & Miller. This understanding can also bring about resolutions. coworkers and supervisors should be aware of any unusual behavior. Although limited information is available for telecommunicators. one could presume the same or similar causes and effects apply. some of these causes and effects could be prevented. a preventative approach may be more effective. Andrew. One specific cause cannot be labeled as the most important in leading to the problem. Alcohol abuse while on the job certainly can have 13 detrimental effects on the public. likely from the trauma they are exposed to on a regular basis (Lilly & Pierce. Studies show a variety of causes and effects of PTSD in emergency personnel. Employees who suffer from job-induced stress or PTSD should have an .EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD consequences for the public. With a proactive approach to PTSD in emergency personnel. because the effects of the incident may not appear for months after it has happened. Physical health issues such as cardiovascular problems and general sickness have been linked to PTSD and can affect public safety (Violanti. However. Learning about signs and symptoms is the first step to a proactive resolution. understanding how they all intertwine is the key to prevention. 2009).

For instance. . Every employee involved in the incident may not be available at the same time for the CISD. Emergency telecommunicators and other emergency personnel typically work in shifts and must maintain a minimum staffing level to ensure public safety. An employee assistance program (EAP) or critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) can be used to alleviate some of the stress from the job by speaking with a therapist or counselor. The program should also allow employees to remain anonymous. If employees are unaware such programs exist. Some employees may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about seeing or speaking to someone for help.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD 14 opportunity to receive help. Therefore. A proper CISD should include all individuals involved in the incident. The EAP focuses on providing counseling services to employees experiencing any form of personal or work-related stress (Magyar & Theophilos. An advantage of the EAP is that employees can utilize it for both work and personal stress. 56% of the individuals involved in a Los Angeles fire department incident reported a reduction of symptoms after attending the debriefing (Magyar & Theophilos. However. which is experienced only by a fraction of employees (Jeannette & Scoboria. they will be less likely to benefit from it. Challenges and barriers may arise when attempting to implement such programs as well. 2010). research has also showed success with CISD. A disadvantage may be the programs lack of encouragement and promotion. 2010). 2008). there may be little to no benefit for the other employees involved in the incident. A disadvantage to using CISD is that its purpose is to prevent PTSD. which often result in larger problems such as PTSD when combined.

generate understanding and resolutions to the problem. . and extend knowledge in a way that may have a positive global effect. the organization for which he or she works.EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATORS AND PTSD Summary One can assume that telecommunicators struggle with PTSD more than the 15 general population. The problem of PTSD in the public safety field is clear and can have detrimental effects to the individual who suffers. Further research would clarify misconceptions. and society in general. one must substantiate preliminary assumptions about the causes and effects of PTSD with data about other emergency personnel whose jobs have similar exposure to trauma. With the lack of empirical data available about this group.

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