Public Safety

Post-Operational Mental Health Concerns for Public Safety PersonnelGeneral Public Image - Public Safety


A number of factors inherent in the disaster environment dictate that you should maintain your vigilance against the emergence of physical and psychological problems, both in yourself and in your fellow public safety workers. Here are some reasons why:

  • Symptoms for serious mental health threats, such as depression and PTSD may not show up for months following the end of rescue/relief efforts.
  • Physical illnesses, including respiratory and cardiac disease, may emerge as a result of exposure to a variety of pathogens.
  • Studies indicate there to be a positive correlation between exposure to disaster and substance abuse.
  • Many of those deployed will return to their normal duties as public safety personnel once operations have ended. This can be a problem for a couple of reasons:
    • It’s a transition from one stressful environment to another. Whatever threats exist as a result of the disaster will probably be exacerbated, to varying degrees, by the environmental stressors that public safety personnel routinely face.
    • The effects of disaster-related illnesses reduce your ability to perform your duties safely and effectively.

Some stress-related symptoms are normal, and may dissipate as the weeks and months following the disaster pass; however, there are some things you should be aware of that are indicative of more serious problems:

Intrusive Thoughts and Ideas

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Thoughts of injuring others.
  • Reliving the event; nightmares or unwanted memories that take you back to the event.

Avoidance; Behaviors Designed To Block or Forget Memories About Your Experiences

  • You may go out of your way to avoid places, people, or things that could remind you of the disaster.
  • Substance abuse: you may begin to use alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or other intoxicants as a way of repressing the pain associated with your experiences.


  • Loss of loving or positive feelings toward those you used to care about.
  • Loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy.
  • Feeling unable to feel or express emotions.

Hypervigilance or Increased Arousal

  • Irritability or anger.
  • Fidgeting or excessive activity.
  • Difficulty relaxing when it is okay to relax.
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Relations with Others

  • Problems with others at home.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Problems at work with supervisors, coworkers, or the public.
  • Isolation or withdrawal.

Other Signs of Trouble

  • A persistent sense of hopelessness or sadness.
  • Taking excessive risks or doing unsafe things.
  • Sudden problems in your relationships at work or at home.
  • Loss of memory or difficulty concentrating.
  • Physical symptoms, such as pain or illness.

In the event of physical symptoms, you should seek medical attention. If any of the other problems mentioned here persist, you should seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Web Links

This PDF examines some of the difficulties that public safety personnel often face after disasters, and gives some suggestions for alleviating them.

Cornell University conducted a study on stress and related issues among those NYC firefighters who were present during post-9-11-01 rescue/relief operations. Here is a discussion of the findings.

This is a document that offers training in surviving field stress for first responders.