First responders are particularly susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and substance abuse and typically don’t seek treatment when they are feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of their jobs. The rates of divorce and suicide are significantly higher for this population than rates among the general population. To help with this issue, Princeton House Behavioral Health (PHBH) recently launched an inpatient service tailored to the needs of first responders.
“First responders are strong, self-reliant people, so it can be difficult for them to ask for help,” said Richard Wohl, President of PHBH and Senior Vice President of Princeton HealthCare System. “Our goal is to help them understand that there is no dishonor in seeking professional treatment. And once they make that step, our program is designed to help them get healthy and get back to the critical work they do.”
Offered at the PHBH inpatient campus in Princeton, the program began earlier this year. The program includes a comprehensive evaluation and individualized treatment which may include individual, group and family therapy; evidence-based practices; psychotropic medication management; nutrition counseling; expressive therapies (such as art or music therapy); and exercise. When indicated, this approach is integrated with traditional 12-step recovery based programming.
The program accounts for the cumulative effect of the stresses associated with critical incidents that first responders experience on a routine basis, said Michael Bizzarro, PhD, LCSW, BCD, director of PHBH’s First Responder Treatment Services.
“The repeated exposure to tragedy can have a devastating effect on a first responder’s relationships and daily functioning,” Dr. Bizzarro said. “Some seek temporary relief through alcohol and other substances, which, over time, may lead to alcoholism or addiction. This abuse will impact every member of a first responder’s family, so family participation is an important component of patients’ treatment and is crucial to their recovery.”
Dr. Bizzarro said treatment time for each first responder will vary depending on his or her psychological and medical needs. When first responders are ready to return to the community, PHBH helps coordinate their return to work and makes recommendations for follow-up care.