PTSD treatment guidelines for emergency workers

There is an increasing realisation that emergency work can come at a cost, with large numbers of emergency workers reporting ongoing psychological consequences from exposure to trauma, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The most up to date literature estimates that around one in ten emergency workers are currently suffering from PTSD, although rates are likely to be even higher if retired emergency workers are considered. 

Over recent decades a substantial body of evidence has accumulated regarding how PTSD should be treated.  There are now a number of psychological and pharmacological treatments known to be effective.  There have also been a number of proposed treatments that have been found not to be beneficial.  However, such is the scope of available literature on PTSD, it has become difficult for both clinicians and organisations to remain up to date with what is best practice.   

However, from the point of view of those managing emergency service personnel with symptoms of PTSD there were two main limitations of the previously available guidance.  Firstly, while the guidelines make some comments about specific groups, such as emergency workers, the bulk of the document deals with the management of PTSD more generally, without consideration of some of the specific issues that may relate to emergency workers.  Secondly, like much of the research in this field, most of the currently available guidance is focused on symptomatic improvement.  While a reduction in symptoms is often a necessary first step towards functional recovery, in cases of work-related trauma exposure, it is often not enough.  Managing the return to work of an emergency worker who has suffered PTSD is particularly complicated due to issues of public safety and the likelihood of further trauma exposure.

We are currently working together with Employers Mutual to bring together a group of experts to develop clear, evidence-based guidelines on how to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst emergency workers. This will be completed by mid-2014.