TMS for First Responders

TMS for First Responders: A Viable Treatment Option for Depression and Trauma

First responders are often the first people to come into contact with extreme violence and traumatic scenes. Unfortunately, exposure to trauma and repeated workplace stress can cause mental disorder symptoms. For first responders in general, they are at high risk of developing the symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treating these disorders with effective options such as medication, therapy, and deep brain stimulation techniques can improve first responders’ quality of life.

Who are first responders?

A first responder is a person operating in a professional capacity who is often the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency. These professionals are crucial for providing treatment and assistance to victims of violence, accidents, and people under extreme duress. Although it’s a broad term, the following types of professionals and volunteers are considered first responders:

  • Paramedics
  • Firefighters
  • Mental health workers
  • Police officers
  • EMS personnel

Anyone can come into contact with workplace stress and traumatic situations. But for first responders, their frequent contact with these situations is much higher than in the general population. As such, they are at increased risk of experiencing a range of stress-related disorders.

First Responders and Stress-related Disorders

Because of the intense, and often relentless nature of their profession, first responders can experience a variety of mental health conditions that are triggered by stress and trauma. Many first responders who are struggling with these symptoms may turn to drugs and alcohol to find relief or cope with flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

PTSD in first responders is also a risk. People do not have to be personally threatened with violence or death to develop PTSD symptoms. Being a witness to violence and traumatic scenes can trigger PTSD in vulnerable individuals. For first responders, their risk goes up since they will often repeatedly witness these types of situations. Unfortunately, PTSD increases the chances of someone developing depression and a substance use disorder, further compounding the problem.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD in first responders?

PTSD is diagnosed when someone exhibits a cluster of specific symptoms for more than a month after they’ve experienced a traumatic event, either directly or as a witness. Some examples of traumatic events first responders may experience include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents 
  • Terrorism
  • Extreme abuse and violence
  • After-effects of wars and civil unrest

The signs and symptoms of PTSD for first responders and the general public are the same, and include the following:

  • Flashbacks and vivid memories of the event
  • Nightmares about the trauma
  • Intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts related to the trauma
  • Anxiety and panic attacks when reminded of the trauma
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Hypervigilance and jumpiness
  • Loss of motivation and pessimism
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Feeling detached
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors

Symptoms of PTSD and trauma in first responders won’t always happen immediately after the event. Sometimes, symptoms can take months to appear. Depression is also a risk factor and can develop from PTSD in traumatized first responders.

Symptoms of Depression in First Responders

The symptoms of depression in first responders are similar to the symptoms seen in the general population. For first responders, the triggers for depression are often specific to work-related stress and trauma. First responders are often driven and motivated, and they are also attuned to how others perceive them. Unfortunately, people with these characteristics may start to think that their symptoms of anxiety and PTSD are signs of weakness. Because of the nature of their work, first responders may feel strongly tempted to hide their symptoms from other people. 

Internalizing strong, painful feelings like these can trigger other distressing emotions, which can be disturbing to first responders. Unfortunately, these reactions can trigger or worsen feelings of depression. Untreated, prolonged episodes of depression with comorbid PTSD can dramatically increase the risk of self-harm and suicide. Although these are serious issues, they are treatable with therapy, medication, and support groups. First responders who do not respond to medication may also benefit from transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression.

How Therapy and Support Groups Help

Talk therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, is highly effective for treating both depression and symptoms of PTSD. When someone is struggling with different mental health disorders or substance abuse and mental health, they have what is called a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis often requires a robust, integrated treatment program. Integrated treatment programs use specialists from different medical and therapeutic backgrounds to treat the patient as a team. This multidisciplinary team can include therapists and counselors, social workers, and physicians. Each specialist addresses the patient’s needs within their realm of expertise. 

First responders who’ve been traumatized may feel isolated from the rest of the community. People struggling with mental health disorders may also feel stigmatized by society. It’s easy for first responders with depression and trauma to isolate themselves from their social circle. Unfortunately, isolation can further feed symptoms of depression. For first responders specifically, joining a support group can help. They can share their experiences, progress, and concerns with a group of people who’ve walked in their shoes and are currently on the same path toward healing and recovery.

Can TMS help first responders with depression?

TMS is a non-invasive form of deep brain stimulation. The FDA has approved TMS treatment for depression. In some patients, medication does not have a noticeable impact on their depression symptoms. Or, the side effects of depression medications may be unpleasant. For these patients, TMS can help. 

During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed over the patient’s head and delivers strong pulses into the brain that can stimulate neurotransmitters. With the help of TMS, depression symptoms are targeted and relieved. TMS is pain-free and does not require sedation. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression symptoms and PTSD, you may be a candidate for TMS. Please contact the technicians at Pulse TMS today to see if this treatment option is right for you.