A prospective study of firefighters' PTSD and depression symptoms: The first 3 years of service.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Objective: Firefighters are an important sample of convenience to study traumatic exposure and symptom development. This study assessed trauma exposure inside and outside of fire service, diagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and associated disorders using clinical interviews and self-report measures, then tested the hypothesis that trauma exposure would predict distress in firefighters over the first 3 years in service. Method: In total, 322 professional firefighter recruits were assessed during academy training and through their first 3 years of service. Diagnostic assessments were conducted by psychologists annually, and symptom checklists were completed by telephone every 4 months. Results: Firefighter recruits were exposed to approximately nine potentially traumatic events (PTEs) in the first 3 years of fire service, with 66% of these events occurring in the line of duty. Very few (3%) developed diagnoses of PTSD, major depression, or generalized anxiety disorder. Models of distress supported a trait model of distress. Distress was stable within individuals over time, and although those reporting more distress also reported more trauma exposure, variation in distress over time was not predicted by trauma exposure. Conclusions: Professional firefighters experience frequent exposure to potentially traumatic events during their early careers. This exposure, although large, does not result in a large proportion of mental health diagnoses. Distress was consistent and low, which provides evidence of the resilient nature of those selecting a career in emergency service. Future work is needed to understand the disconnection between the current rigorously collected prospective data and the existing literature regarding the increased risk of PTSD and associated disorders in fire service. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Gulliver, SB; Zimering, RT; Knight, J; Morissette, SB; Kamholz, BW; Pennington, ML; Dobani, F; Carpenter, TP; Kimbrel, NA; Keane, TM; Meyer, EC

Published Date

  • January 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 13 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 44 - 55

PubMed ID

  • 33382330

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1942-969X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1037/tra0000980


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States