First responders such as police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers and others are the trained professionals who are the first to respond to emergency situations. Unless an individual happens to be facing a crisis, it’s easy to take these services for granted. Little thought is given to how working through these high-stress and oftentimes heartbreaking situations affect those whose job it is to handle them.
For the average person, dangerous situations such as car accidents, serious injuries, house fires, and other circumstances that pose an immediate threat are rare occurrences. For first responders, these worst-case scenarios are everyday scenarios that must be faced over and over again.
Unfortunately, these emergency situations take a significant toll on those who handle them on a daily basis. According to a 2018 supplemental research bulletin from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Technical Assistance Center, about three in 10 first responders live with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to two out of 10 members of the general population.
The Consequences When PTSD and Depression Go Untreated
To combat these mental health conditions, many first responders turn to substance use. Within 30 days prior to being surveyed, 50 percent of male firefighters reported at least one episode of binge or heavy drinking. In female firefighters, who make up just 5 percent of the total number of firefighters, 83 percent had tried smoking and 22 percent were currently smoking, compared to 18 percent of women in the general population. Nearly 90 percent reported drinking alcohol in the past month, 61 percent reported heavy drinking and 40 percent reported binge drinking.
Suicide is also considerably more common among first responders. In a small 2015 study of 1,027 current and retired firefighters, 47 percent of firefighters had thought about suicide, nearly 20 percent had suicide plans and 16 percent had attempted suicide. Among police officers, about one in four have considered suicide, with those reporting burnout at work experiencing a 117 percent greater likelihood of suicidal thoughts than officers not reporting burnout.
By contrast, of the general population, 14 percent of people have suicidal thoughts, 4 percent have a suicide plan and 5 percent have attempted suicide.
Working as a first responder requires a great deal of strength. For many, the strength that allows them to tackle everyone else’s worst-case scenario day in and day out can also be a significant roadblock in getting much needed mental health treatment. Some worry about how seeking mental healthcare may impact their job security, afraid that admitting to struggles with depression, anxiety and PTSD may affect how their colleagues and supervisors interact with them or even that job opportunities may be limited as a result of seeking treatment.
The good news is that neurotherapy provides a technologically advanced, research-based way to retrain the brain. This remarkable counseling tool empowers clients to take control of how their brains respond to life problems. It helps the central nervous system calm itself down and learn a more regulated, efficient way to function and solve problems.
What Is Neurotherapy?
Neurotherapy is a broad term that encompasses several different types of treatment, including neurostimulation and neurofeedback, that aim to retrain the brain through developing new skills or by increasing cognitive performance and fitness through mental exercise activities.
Neurotherapy is based on the idea that physiological functioning is responsible for how the individual thinks, feels and behaves. When the brain gets stuck in a pattern of not adjusting properly to a situation, problems like anxiety and depression may arise. In some cases, these patterns are learned behaviors—the body may get conditioned to react in a certain way to stressful situations. Neurotherapy provides the opportunity for new learning, allowing the brain to create new pathways that result in more constructive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
This treatment is painless and non-invasive, and because it trains the brain how to function in a healthy way, its benefits last beyond treatment sessions.
How Does Neurotherapy Help First Responders?
Neurotherapy is becoming an increasingly more popular treatment option for first responders living with conditions like depression and PTSD. Through quantitative electroencephalography, or qEEEG, the medical professional uses brain-imaging technology to identify areas of the brain that produce too much or too little activity. A clinical team determines the best course of treatment to address the mental illness.
After this analysis, the individual begins neurofeedback training. For first responders, the treatment may target symptoms such as mood problems, addiction, anxiety, and PTSD. After targeting the affected areas of the brain, the neurofeedback training can guide these areas to behave more like a “normal” brain.
Through this process, the brain learns to regulate itself and correct unhelpful habits and patterns. When it corrects an error through feedback, it’s rewarded through a movie or another stimulus that fully appears on the screen. When it doesn’t function as desired, the visual stimulus doesn’t play full on the screen. Over time, this training causes the brain to become more stable and efficient.
Essentially, neurotherapy is a learning process. Those who go through this treatment to address job-related PTSD, anxiety, and depression learn how to control their brain activity in the same way that they learn any other skill. Just as reading, writing, speaking, and eating are learned through consistent practice, first responders learn how to control their neurological processes through feedback, patience and exercise.
The Benefits of Neurotherapy for First Responders
In a perfect world, everyone would have the desire and drive to seek mental health treatment. However, for first responders, there are barriers that discourage them from getting the help they need. Stigma is a significant issue for those living with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Many in this career field mistakenly believe that their health struggles are unimportant at best and a sign of weakness or inadequacy at worst.
Fortunately, there’s been a surge in prevention and education efforts by support organizations on behalf of firefighters, first responders, and veterans. We’re becoming increasingly aware that while most people live with a mental health condition at some point in their lives, first responders have higher levels of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
While first responders may not be able to change the unknown traumatic situations that they have to face on a regular basis, through neurotherapy, they can train their brain to recover and cope in a healthy, productive way. The results are measurable and progress is easily tracked.
In short, neurotherapy can help first responders live more fulfilling lives. Some common positive effects include:
- Panic and anxiety management
- Building emotional resilience
- Improving mood, concentration, focus and attention
- Improving learning and cognitive performance
- Boosting motivation and energy
- Learning to manage addictions, destructive habits and cravings
FHE Health Provides Neurotherapy Services
For first responders living with PTSD, depression, or anxiety, recovery is possible with high-quality, comprehensive care. At FHE Health, we offer Neurotherapy as part of our holistic approach to mental health care. We understand the unique needs and challenges that first responders face and provide specialized treatment for firefighters, law enforcement officers, dispatchers, and EMTs. Our treatments are tailored to first responders’ individual needs and align with not only the unique nature of emergency responders’ experiences but also with their culture and values.
Mental illnesses like PTSD can be debilitating, and unfortunately, they rarely resolve on their own. By reaching out for help, first responders can enjoy a better quality of life and prolong their careers. If you or someone you know is a first responder who’s interested in discussing neuro rehab for PTSD, call us today at (888) 532-0583.