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The Weakest Link: Recognizing PTSD

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Most people are familiar with that adage. It speaks volumes about teamwork and holding a group together, but let’s rummage around that thought with something else in mind: PTSD.

More than 80% of first responders experience trauma. It affects how they live, their relationships, their jobs, how they respond to various situations and their health. PTSD, if untreated, can lead to divorce, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide.

The Weakest Links

Imagine a chain forged from steel, link by link, each from the same material. Now let’s imagine those individual links are exposed to varying temperatures on their own. Some are extremely hot and some extremely cold while others are just around the middle.

What happens when we put those links together for a job? Let’s say they’re holding up a heavy object like a wrecking ball. Most links will work fine, having been exposed to varying temperatures but nothing too extreme. Those extreme heat, perhaps over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, will have become weaker by almost 50%. Those exposed to extreme cold may become brittle.

Would you want to stand under that wrecking ball with that knowledge?

Recognize Your Links

While we may toss out weak steel, we greatly value human persons. When our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and spouses are exposed to extreme trauma – personal or professional – they are like those weak links. They may do well under normal circumstances, but placed under extreme pressure, they could break like those chain links.

The first step is recognizing the trauma well before the breaking point. If one were aware of the condition of the chain links, those links may not have been placed in the chain. That link would need to be reforged.

For a person, we can heal from trauma and continue to be part of the chain, our departments, our families, and our community. But first, those with PTSD need to be seen, recognized and acknowledged.

When you know your people on a deeper level, you see small changes. When you know their stories and show interest regularly, you build a relationship of trust. We ask about each other, listen with intent, and care about how our coworkers are doing.

The job can still get done, but the closer we are to knowing one another, the more confident we are knowing we have each other’s backs. In emergency services, this is crucial.

The Real Weakest Link

As we support our fellow responders, we want to make it clear they are valued. So, let’s redefine that old adage.

A chain, or a department, is only as strong as its weakest link, which is not a person but its lowest level of care.

You see, ultimately, the weak link isn’t the person; it never was. It’s the lack of care given to those who need the most healing. After all, steel reforged is actually stronger. A person who heals from trauma comes out more resilient than most.

We can change the numbers and grow our departments full of strong, resilient, capable responders. We need only reach out, look, listen, and care for our own. We can build a stronger chain together.

Links to Healing

For resources to support first responders, check out any of these confidential support lines:

· Fire/EMS Helpline – 1-888-731-FIRE (3473)

· Emergency Responder Crisis Text Line – Text BADGE to 741741

· Safe Call Now – 1-206-459-3020

· Frontline Helpline – 1-866-676-7500

· Crisis Text Line – Text START or HELP to 741741

· SAMHSA’s National Helpline – Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

They offer support and resources.

· U.S. Veterans Administration – more resources and support for veterans and their families

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The Weakest Link: Recognizing PTSD

By: Caroline Godin

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