The Impact of High Risk Occupations
Aside from depression, another danger rife in high-risk occupations is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD defined as a response to experiencing or witnessing others who are involved in an extremely traumatic event, like assault, natural disaster, death of a loved one, etc. This disorder can present immediately after such an event, but there are cases where PTSD sets in months, or even years, after the trauma has occurred.
Although an individual can be vulnerable to PTSD in just about any occupation – for instance, a shop assistant who is assaulted during a robbery – a high-risk occupation is one where a large number of people in that job go on to develop disorders related to trauma. So the shop assistant is considered low-risk because trauma is not likely to be a norm in that situation, whereas being a police officer on the other hand, is entirely the opposite.
As stated previously, an individual doesn’t have to be directly involved in a traumatic event to be affected by it. Witnessing it, hearing about it from someone else, or even reading about it can also have adverse effects on mental health. Some professions with an extremely high rate of PTSD among individuals include the military, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical response as well as other healthcare sectors, journalists, and first responders to disaster events.
The nature of these professions require individuals to be up close with trauma in various ways, and as such, place them in very vulnerable positions. It should be said, however, that being a police officer or an EMT does not mean that you will definitely go on to develop PTSD, it just means that someone in that position is at higher risk than say, the shop assistant mentioned before.
A social worker is generally the first response to victims of disaster or children affected by abuse, and rape. They have front row seats to indirectly living these traumas repeatedly, which increases the risk of social workers developing PTSD. Journalists covering traumatic topics of war and horrible violence also become victims to the intense emotional nature of their work. Depression and PTSD is not uncommon in this field, and sadly suicide as well.
A huge factor in this respect is the idea that the journalist is recording history and should not personally interfere with the events that unfold. This becomes difficult when you consider the toll it takes to photograph children running from active bullets, or someone being set alight—and do nothing.
On the other end of the spectrum are the people commissioned to serve and protect. The rate of depression and suicide among firefighters and police officers are disconcertingly high. The trauma that these individuals experience on a daily basis occurs in a bubble where mental health is not a priority and all too often ignored.
People are left to struggle on their own for fear of seeming weak in a space where weakness is abhorred. Therefore, the emotional and mental detachment required to live through any given day in these professions can be considered significant contributors to the mental health issues that follow.
Mental Health Support Should Be Mandatory
It is becoming increasingly worrisome that occupations existing to protect the lives of others have a culture that discourages people working within stressful and traumatic environments from seeking help when they need it. Suffer in silence seems to be the credo adopted, which not only poses a risk to the individual who is suffering, but also to the people that individual is supposed to serve. A doctor, police officer, lawyer – in the grip of depression or PTSD will not be able to provide the best service as needed. And where mental health support is made available?
When a harsh stigma surrounds seeking help for mental illness, individuals have to choose between upholding the façade of their wellness so as to not ‘rock the boat’ at work and ruin their reputation, or get help at the cost of those things which sometimes puts their very jobs on the line as well.
Are organizations doing enough to safeguard the people putting themselves at risk every day? Looking at recent statistics, we’d have to answer with an emphatic No. The fact that high-risk occupations have high rates of PTSD, depression, and suicide is proof in itself that more work needs to be done on increasing mental health awareness and eradicating the stigma that still surrounds mental illness to this day.
Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It speaks to the resilience within an individual and the spirit to fight to regain control over their lives and achieve a sense of balance and wellbeing.
At ZwavelStream Clinic our team includes specialists in treating PTSD and depression. Contact us if you need support and guidance with the mental health risks imposed by your occupation.