The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among emergency service workers is more than twice that in the general population, yet diagnosis is often delayed. GPs can ensure patients with PTSD receive best-practice clinical care by being aware of how they can present, knowing how to enquire about symptoms among those who have been exposed to trauma and following new expert guidelines.
- One in 10 currently active emergency service workers will have symptoms suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Rates may be even higher among retired workers.
- An emergency worker with PTSD may present with typical symptoms or other related problems, such as anger, relationship problems, sleep difficulty, substance abuse or a more general mental health crisis.
- Repeated nonspecific presentations by current or former emergency service workers should raise suspicion of PTSD and prompt questions about trauma exposure.
- Use of appropriate screening tools can increase the likelihood of PTSD being recognised.
- It is often beneficial to obtain a second opinion from a mental health professional who has experience in managing emergency service workers or military personnel.
- Gold-standard treatment is one of the trauma-focused psychological treatments such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy or eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing.
- Australian guidelines outline circumstances in which medication should be considered as a treatment option for an emergency service worker with PTSD.
- Awareness of the increased risk of suicide associated with PTSD, especially among emergency service workers, is crucial.