March 30, 2012

911 Dispatchers Experiencing PTSD

A new study reports that emergency dispatchers can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress shows that emergency workers don´t need to be personally involved in handling the emergency in order to suffer trauma.

Dr. Michelle Lilly from Northern Illinois University says, “Post-Traumatic psychological disorders are usually associated with front line emergency workers, such as police officers, firefighters or combat veterans. Usually research considers links between disorders and how much emotional distress is experienced on the scene of a traumatic event. However, this is the first study on emergency dispatchers, who experience the trauma indirectly.”

The researchers looked at 171 currently serving dispatchers from 24 US states. The sample was mostly white women with an average age of 38 with 11 years of dispatch experience.

The subjects were asked about the types of calls they handled and how much emotional stress the calls created. They then rated the calls that caused distress and were asked to recall the worst call handled.

The study reported that unexpected injury or death of a child was the worst call experienced by 16 percent of dispatchers. Thirteen percent reported suicide as the worst call. Police shootings and unexpected deaths of adults each rated 10 percent as the worst type of call.

Another significant stressor for dispatchers is not knowing what happens after the call. Monica Gavio, a coordinator for the Burlington County New Jersey 911 communications center told ABC News, “We don´t know the end result. We don´t know if they made it. There is no formal communication back to us.”

The report notes that dispatchers experience distress after 32 percent of calls and that 3.5 percent of dispatchers report symptoms severe enough to be classified as PTSD.

Researcher Heather Pierce, who is s former emergency dispatcher said, “The results show the need to provide these workers with prevention and intervention support as is currently provided for their front-line colleagues. This incluede briefings and training in ways to handle emotional distress.”


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