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First Responders, Mental Health Struggles and Long-Term Disability

By Matt Lalande in Hamilton Law Firm, Long-Term Disability on January 27, 2023

First Responders, Mental Health Struggles and Long-Term Disability

First responders are exposed to an immense amount of stressors, such as witnessing traumatic events and long work hours. This can lead to a wide array of mental health issues, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety, and other disorders. First responders not only face the daily risk of physical harm in their line of work but also experience psychological strain due to the nature of their job. As first responders are frequently put in difficult situations with no foreseeable resolution, it is often hard for them to cope with ongoing trauma that they may witness or undergo during their shifts. It is therefore not surprising that first responders have a higher rate of mental health related issues than the general population.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop a mental health disability such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their exposure to critical incidents in the line of duty. These high figures are attributed to first responders’ high-pressure workplaces and the danger they face on a daily basis, as well as the lack of understanding and resources available to first responders suffering from mental health issues.

For first responders struggling with mental illness, seeking help can be difficult due to the stigma that still exists and a lack of understanding of the specific needs first responders have. The emotional toll that comes with first responder work can be overwhelming, and first responders may not be able to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, leading them to suffer in silence. First responders often struggle to cope with the traumatic events they experience, leading to intense stress and anxiety. In addition, first responders may be at risk of developing psychological issues due to their profession’s physical and emotional demands. Working in a high-intensity environment can take its toll on first responders’ mental health, making it difficult for them to manage their stress levels.

It can take an experienced long-term disability lawyer to understand the first responders’ plight and help them secure disability benefits or other financial assistance that they may need. A mental health disability lawyer can provide first responders with the support and guidance they need to take action and protect their rights. Our Disability Lawyers have extensive experience helping first responders with mental health disability claims, and we will work tirelessly to ensure first responders receive the financial support they need and deserve from their long-term disability carrier.

Are First Responders Entitled to Access Long-term Disability Benefits?

It depends on the position and it depends on the illness or injury. For many first responders, mental health conditions such as PTSD is a “presumptive” disability. Presumptive disabilities are injuries or conditions that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) presumes to be work-related for a group of workers. This means that if you are a member of this presumptive disability group, WSIB will accept that your injury is work related and provide benefits without having to prove it was caused by your work. In order to be eligible for presumptive disability benefits, you must meet certain criteria, such as being a member of the presumptive disability group (such as a first responder) and having been exposed to certain conditions or activities related to your job.

If you are unsure whether or not you qualify for presumptive disability benefits, it is important to speak with WSIB directly in order to clarify your eligibility. They should be able to provide you with the necessary information and guidance about presumptive disability benefits. It is also important to remember that presumptive disabilities must be reported within a certain period of time in order for WSIB to accept them and provide benefits so it is essential to act quickly if you believe you may qualify.

Remember – the presumption may be rebutted if it is established that the employment was not a significant contributing factor in causing the first responder’s PTSD. In this case – the first responder would be able to turn to his or her long-term disability benefits for assistance. Our Hamilton disability lawyers have helped first responders who also have co-morbid conditions which may not wholly be related (or partly related) to employment.

For example, if a firefighter suffers PTSD but had a history of depression, or a paramedic with pre-existing mental illness or substance addiction or a police offer who suffers an off-duty life threatening injury – recovers to a certain extent but works in fear and with debilitating of re-injury or PTSD related symptoms.

More importantly, there are workplace disabilities that will not be considered “presumptive” with certain first responders and as such – he or she will be able to apply for long-term disability benefits.

The Traumatic nature of First Responder work

Statistics about mental health issues among police, firefighters, and paramedics all seem to indicate the same sad truth: many first responders struggle with mental health issues due to their exposure to highly stressful situations. Different studies from within Canada, the US and across the world have shown that first responders are more likely to experience depression and PTSD than the general population:

  • In Canada, first responders are three times more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population, according to a study by the Canadian Mental Health Association;
  • The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States reports that first responders are five times more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population;
  • Respondents of a study by the International Association of Fire Fighters reported that 48 percent experienced symptoms of PTSD, and 31 percent reported experiencing depression;
  • A Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment survey found that first responders are twice as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

For first responders seeking help, working with a mental health disability lawyer can be the first step in getting the support they need. By providing first responders with the knowledge and resources to pursue their legal rights, Lalande Personal Injury Lawyers can help first responders secure the financial support they need to get back on their feet. We have years of experience in disability litigation, and can provide the compassion and expertise needed to guide first responders through the often complex process of seeking compensation for their disabilities. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

Reasons why so many First Responders Struggle with Mental Health Issues

The question remains: what is it about the work of first responders that puts them at such a high risk for mental health issues? In Canada, first responders who suffer from mental health issues are consistently higher than the national average, with first responders being three times more likely to suffer from PTSD. The factors that play into first responders’ mental health include the nature of their work, the constant exposure to traumatic events, and the level of support currently available to them:

Exposure to traumatic events: first responders are often required to respond to traumatic situations such as fires and car accidents, leading to high levels of stress and anxiety. On any given day, first responders may have to witness, or even participate in, tragic events.

Lack of support: first responders are often hesitant to reach out for help due to the stigma of mental health issues. A study done in 2008 by the Canadian Medical Association reported that only 23 percent of Canadians in general would speak openly to their employers about a medical illness. Many first responders may not even be aware of the resources or options available to them simply because they are not clearly communicated.

A workplace culture of strength: many first responders may feel that they are required to maintain a certain level of strength and resilience and may be reluctant to reach out for support, and understandably so, in an occupation that is often viewed as heroic and brave. This workplace culture can ultimately lead first responders to experience feelings of guilt and shame for having mental health issues and may also cause first responders experiencing mental health disorders to hesitate from speaking out to medical professionals for help.

The financial implications of mental health issues: first responders who suffer from mental health issues may face financial issues due to their reduced or eliminated ability to work. In such cases, first responders may be eligible for long-term disability benefits or other forms of financial assistance. Particularly for first responders who support dependents such as children and spouses, the financial burden can be overwhelming and cause them to prioritize their professions over their mental health.

Physical demands: first responders are also subject to physical demands such as running, lifting heavy objects, and other strenuous activities, which can lead to physical exhaustion and the development of physical injuries. In some cases, mental health issues can be a distraction or part of the reason for the physical injury and, in other cases, first responders may develop mental health issues as they seek to cope with their physical injuries.

Personal feeling of responsibility: first responders often feel a strong sense of personal responsibility for the outcome of emergency situations. They may experience guilt or shame in cases where there is loss of life or injury and can suffer from a sense of helplessness when they are unable to do more for the people in their care.

The work of first responders places them at constant risk of physical injury and in situations that can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. Without appropriate support, first responders can be left feeling isolated and overwhelmed and develop mental health issues due to the trauma they experience and witness regularly.

Mental Health Issues and their Impact on First Responders

The impact of mental health issues on first responders’ mental health and ability to perform their duties can be significant. First responders may experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even suicidal thoughts. They may have difficulty concentrating and completing tasks, which can lead to reduced effectiveness in their duties. Despite long-held misunderstandings, it’s important for first responders to understand that these mental health issues are just as potent as physical injuries to cause harm and impede the ability to live healthy lives and remain employed:

Depression: A 2020 Canadian report on first responders found that first responders experience depression of similar frequency and severity as the general population. Symptoms of depression can include feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, and sadness. Depression can make it difficult to perform tasks on the job and maintain relationships and engage in proper self-care.

Anxiety: first responders may experience anxiety due to the pressure of performing their duties in unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations. Insomnia, restlessness, and muscle tension can develop in first responders from constantly being on alert as part of the nature of the job. Anxiety can lead to decreased energy levels, reduced attention span, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. If left unchecked, first responders can even experience physical exhaustion due to the stress and anxiety of their jobs.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):  A 2017 survey of first responders in the United States found that first responders were more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population. First responders can develop PTSD as a result of their exposure to traumatic events. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, and intense fear or avoidance. First responders may also experience emotional numbness, social isolation, and difficulty forming close relationships.

Self-harm and suicidal idealization: first responders may cope with their mental health issues by engaging in self-harm or suicidal thoughts. On the job, first responders can encounter impossible dilemmas, and repeatedly having to experience loss can lead to feelings of helplessness and guilt. This sense of personal failure and lack of control over the situation can lead first responders to consider self-harm or suicide as a way of coping.

Substance use: Substance use can make first responders more prone to making mistakes on the job, cause further emotional fatigue, and make it difficult to focus. Although it may initially seem like a way to cope with the stress of first responder duties, substance use can become an unhealthy coping mechanism that leads to dependency. Substance use can also contribute to other medical issues like sleep apnea, which first responders already have a higher risk of experiencing.

First responders are exposed to traumatic events on a regular basis, and the stress of their jobs can take an immense toll. The first step in addressing first responder mental health issues is recognizing the impact they can have. It’s important that first responders seek help if they are struggling with any of these issues. A mental health disability lawyer can help first responders navigate the process of getting proper support, ensuring they receive compensation for any lost wages due to their illness or injury.  Seeking help is crucial to first responders to ensure they have the resources they need to manage their mental health issues and continue serving their communities.

Have you been Denied Long-Term Disability? You have rights. Call our Disability Lawyers today.

Access to an experienced mental health disability lawyer can be an invaluable resource for first responders facing mental illness. Mental health disability lawyers possess the knowledge and experience to help first responders navigate the process of filing a claim for long-term disability benefits, as well as understand the legal rights of first responders.  A mental health disability lawyer can provide first responders with essential legal guidance, helping them seek the support they need.  When first responders understand their legal rights and have access to the resources they require, it can help them take the first steps toward recovery.

Our long-term disability lawyers are able to provide first responders with the tools they need to make informed decisions and take action. Our team of legal experts is knowledgeable in the area of first responder mental health disability claims, and is dedicated to helping first responders receive the support they need.  Contact us today to learn more about how our experienced mental health disability lawyers can help you.

Since 2003, Hamilton Disability Lawyer Matt Lalande has recovered tens of millions in compensation for disability claimants who are were going to the worst times of their lives. Stop struggling with a faceless insurance company – and call our Hamilton long-term disability lawyers to get your free consultation today.

We represent disability claimants all over Ontario – and our disability lawyers can help you get the compensation deserve you you. Our consultations are 100% free – and if you decide to work with our Hamilton disability lawyers, the fee is free. We do not charge our clients anything unless we win their case. We are happy to provide you the legal advice you need in order for you to make an informed decision about your own particular situation. Call us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Southern Ontario region at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can send us a confidential email through our website – and we would be happy to explain your long-term disability rights and legal options to you, at no cost.

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5 FAQ Summary

What sorts of mental health issues are most common among first responders?

Mental health challenges are common among first responders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other issues can include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and sleep disorders. During times of high stress, first responders may struggle with feelings of guilt or survivor’s remorse. They can also experience difficulty managing emotions in relationships and have self-destructive thoughts.

Can first responders qualify for long-term disability benefits?

Maybe – so long as there is a co-morbid condition, a pre-existing condition or the disability was not wholly caused by the work environment.

How do I hire a good disability lawyer?

1. Ask for referrals from professionals you trust and do your research on any potential candidates.
2. Make sure the disability lawyer has experience and expertise in the area of law you need help with.
3. Schedule an interview to assess if the disability lawyer is a good fit for you and get a better feel for their expertise on the subject.
4. Ask questions about their practice, fees, and track record in court cases.
5. Get references from previous clients who have worked with the disability lawyer before making a final decision.

Why do first responders suffer PTSD?

First responders are at a high risk of developing PTSD because of the traumatic events they witness and experience in the line of duty. Exposure to violence, death, and destruction can be emotionally draining and can trigger symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, insomnia, substance abuse and other forms of mental distress. Without proper treatment, these symptoms can worsen over time leading to further suffering.

Can I get long-term disability for PTSD if I am a first responder?

You could in fact access Long-term Disability Benefits if your PTSD is not wholly related to your employment. For example, if you suffer from preexisting depression which was compounded by PTSD, you may be eligible to receive long-term disability.



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