First responders (FRs) respond to critical incidents as an expectation of their profession, and after years of service, exposure to trauma can accumulate and potentially lead to mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A gap persists in the research regarding duty-related risk factors and prevalence of mental health problems among FRs. Guided by existing evidence and in partnerships with the state's FR community, this study assessed the mental health needs of FRs, risk factors that may contribute to these problems, and the associations therein. A convenience sample of firefighters and emergency medical technicians/paramedics (n = 220) were recruited from across Arkansas to complete an online survey. This survey incorporated brief assessment tools to measure various mental health problems, and captured other data regarding possible risk factors. Results found that 14% reported moderate-severe and severe depressive symptoms, 28% reported moderate-severe and severe anxiety symptoms, 26% reported significant symptoms of PTSD, 31% reported harmful/hazardous alcohol use and dependence, 93% reported significant sleep disturbances, and 34% indicated high risk for suicide. Significant group differences were found across measures and gender (female), shift-structure (48 h or more), department setting (rural), relationship status (non-partnered), and having a medical history of hypertension. These findings pose significant implications for mental healthcare providers, as well as other healthcare providers and FR organizations. Findings will guide future research that will address the need for changes in decision-making, funding, and policy regarding FRs' MH and MH services available to them.
Keywords: Firefighter; PTSD; Paramedic; Risk factors; Suicide.
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