By: Donna Devita
Share This Post
First Responders and Workers’ Compensation
80% of Connecticut firefighters suffer from job-related mental health issues, but workers’ comp won’t cover them!
Firefighters are tough, but they are not immune to emotional trauma. In an exclusive NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation, 7000 firefighters from around the country (124 directly from Connecticut) answered questions about their mental health and the results were alarming. Not only did 3 out of 4 firefighters report suffering from unresolved emotional issues from their jobs, 80% also admitted the stigma around mental health prevents them from seeking out treatment, and they aren’t the only ones.
First Responders vs. Mental Health
Firefighters and other first responders, such as police officers, EMT’s/paramedics and nurses, perform what are considered some of the most stressful jobs in the country. Under a constant state of emergency, these brave individuals are exposed to high amounts of stress and trauma on a constant basis, helping people in a time of crisis and tragedy. The intensity of these jobs puts first responders at far greater risk for developing trauma-induced mental health issues including:
- PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- suicidal thoughts
In a study performed by the University of Phoenix, 85% of first responders reported experiencing symptoms related to mental health illnesses, yet the majority are not seeking services to resolve these issues even if available- why? Workers’ compensation benefits do NOT cover most mental health treatment and it’s creating major obstacles for Connecticut first responders.
Loss of Wages and Employment
Taking time away from the job for mental health treatment costs first responders wages they can’t afford. Medical insurance does not always cover mental health services and first responders can lose wages for time off they require to recover from traumatic work events. In addition, job security is not permanent, and first responders fear taking too much time away could open the door for fewer hours or loss of employment.
There are 34 states in the country who understand this struggle and have created legislation to include mental health treatment under workers’ compensation benefits, Florida most recently last month. Connecticut has yet to fully follow suit. Though PTSD experienced after a co-workers death is included, state legislators are still fighting to broaden mental health coverage to make it easier for first responders to seek treatment without sacrificing their jobs in the process.
Continuing the Mental Health Stigma
As the state continues to deny first responders financial assistance and acceptance through workers’ compensation in addressing their mental health, the stigma related to seeking this type of treatment continues to grow. Nearly 40% of first responders in the University of Phoenix study believe there are negative repercussions from openly seeking mental health treatment. Out of these individuals…
- 55% believe their supervisor would treat them differently at work.
- 45% believe their co-workers would see them as ‘weak’.
- 34% believe bringing up mental health concerns could pass them over for promotions.
Several supporters and advocates are striving to reduce the stigma related to mental health services, especially for first responders considering the elevated numbers affected. But without the backing of the state to further assist these workers in seeking treatment, the stigma has little chance of changing.
Dangers of Unresolved Mental Health Issues
Without encouraging proper treatment to address underlying emotional traumas of our first responders, Connecticut is putting our heroes and their families at great risk. Unresolved mental issues in first responders can lead to grave consequences:
- severe depression
- physical health deterioration/injury
- low-levels of self-worth
- substance abuse
In an article published by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, first responders experience a rate of suicide at a rate of 10 times that of the general public, and those only include the ones reported. For individuals who dedicate their lives to saving the lives of others, allowing these alarming rates of suffering among the first responder community is inhumane and unacceptable.
Get On Board CT
Our Connecticut heroes deserve more than just a strong recommendation to get treatment, they need our help. Adding coverage for job-related mental health issues to workers’ compensation is a life-saving step our state can take to aid first responders in dire need. Workers’ compensation exists to financially help individuals when they have sustained occupational related injuries and illnesses- mental health conditions should not be considered any different in jobs surrounded by crisis.