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First-Ever Study Confirms Dispatcher Stress Disorders

A just-published study of public safety dispatchers formally reveals for the first time that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a higher percentage than the general population, the result of “significant duty-related trauma exposure.” The study was performed in 2010-2011 by Heather Pierce and Michell Lilly of the Dept. of Psychology at N. Illinois University (NIU), who recruited 171 active dispatchers from 24 different states. The researchers used established assessment methods for evaluating each participant’s exposure to stress, whose results correlate closely to the presence of PTSD. After an analysis of the assessment data, the researchers say participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness, or horror in reaction to 32 percent of the different types of calls they experienced. More interesting, the researchers said, “Although telecommunicators are physically distant from the traumatic scene and their personal integrity is rarely threatened, they may not be buffered from the development of PTSD symptoms.” They also said that a disproportionate amount of worst calls experienced by the sample involved harm to a child or were calls that involved a personal or professional relationship, such as police officers, EMTs or firefighters. To purchase the 5-page article ($35), visit the Wiley.com Web site. Watch a NIU video about the study after the break.

Read more about the study on the Northern Illinois University’s Web site.

In response to the study results, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) issued the following:

APCO International Commends Study on 9-1-1 Dispatchers and PTSD Symptoms

Emphasizes importance of prevention and intervention support, as outlined by the report findings

Daytona Beach, FL – March 30, 2012 – Responding to newly released research on 9-1-1 telecommunicators and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, Gregg Riddle, president of APCO International, the world’s largest organization of public safety communications professionals, released the following statement commending the work of research leader Dr. Michelle Lilly, Northern Illinois University psychologist, and her team:

“First responders including firefighters, police, sheriffs and EMS workers are faced with managing the emotional distress of traumatic events every day, but members of the public safety community that are greatly affected by these situations go beyond those that are present on the scene. For many years, APCO International members have experienced these pressures first-hand at their 9-1-1 call centers, where telecommunicators and dispatchers play an important, challenging role in efficiently and effectively handling time-sensitive crises every single day.

“We look forward to reviewing Dr. Lilly’s report in detail, but we commend the researchers for examining the effects of traumatic scenarios on emergency dispatchers and emphasizing the importance of providing these workers with prevention and intervention support. Helping the entire public safety community manage emotional distress that can lead to PTSD symptoms is critical; the jobs that our first responders and 911 dispatchers alike perform are invaluable for keeping Americans safe.”

2 comments… add one

  • Whitney Grismore November 14, 2012, 7:35 am

    PTSD really takes some time to heal and a good family support is also needed. :

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  • Johnnie Conde February 5, 2013, 7:57 am

    According to a pilot study published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Healing and Caring, veterans with high levels of PTSD saw their PTSD levels drop to within normal limits after treatment. They reported that combat memories that had previously haunted them, including graphic details of deaths, mutilations, and firefights, dropped in intensity to the point where they no longer resulted in flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD. The study involved veterans from Vietnam, as well as more recent conflicts. –

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