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Psychological Distress on Rescue Workers

Rescue workers including those first responding to a scene of an accident or other tragedy face difficulties and stress many workers do not see on the job, especially on a daily basis. Those who work in a rescue and recovery capacity often race to a scene having no idea what to anticipate.


Research has shown that certain events are more likely to cause workers emotional distress and potentially lead to symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These calls include the death or injury of a child, suicides, shootings involving police officers, and the unexpected death of adult victims.


While in the moment, many first responders, officers, and rescue workers are focused on the goal of helping people involved. It is after the work has done that some of the long-lasting effects can become more apparent to the worker or to those around the worker. Some of the signs of psychological distress on rescue workers may include:


  • Difficulties eating, sleeping
  • Bursts of unexplained anger, sadness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and hobbies
  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or feeling helpless
  • Physical pain and symptoms such as stomach pain, headaches, muscle fatigue
  • Isolation from loved ones


Many rescue workers have prolonged difficulties after tragic events, especially around the anniversaries dates of these tragedies. Some workers may also experience distress if certain triggers come into play, which remind them of details of a tragedy.


In addition to the symptoms of psychological distress, some rescue workers become incapacitated following a tragic event, they are no longer able to work and their daily life has become compromised. Intensive therapy and medical intervention may be necessary in severe situations. Mental health services and prescription medications can help to reduce the symptoms of PTSD including the anxiety associated with the psychological distress rescue workers experience.

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