First responders dealing with trauma

Published On: Dec 17 2012 10:01:24 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

People often refer to first responders as heroes. But as much as they are heroes, they are not invincible and have to deal with emotional challenges from their jobs. 

"Even with that macho image and that strong man or superman mentality, they are still human," said Channel 4's Crime and Safety Expert, Ken Jefferson. 

Jefferson said the police officers assigned to each of the victim's families from the school massacre in Newtown have had to put their own trauma on hold as they help navigate them through the grieving process. It's a challenging task that will no doubt take a toll on their own emotional health.

"They will all need to be debriefed on this incident, but this will definitely be someone that resonates on their minds for the rest of their lives," said Jefferson.  

Psychologist, Dr. Lynn Wadelton says these officers bear a heavy load and may experience acute stress or even post-traumatic stress disorder.  

"We expect acute stress. It interferes with sleep and appetite and in some degree, emotions and coping," said Wadelton. "But anything after a 30-day acute stress reaction, if someone is still having significant impairment and functioning, nightmares, inability to go to certain places because it re-traumatizes them; People are experiencing post-traumatic stress. They need to seek professional evaluation and professional help."  

As more details emerge from this tragedy and emotional impact shifts into new phases, Jefferson said it's incumbent upon the departments involved to be proactive in the months that follow.

"There are various programs that each agency has. The employee assistance program has a plethora of areas that they can utilize to help them out," said Jefferson.