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Helping Heroes: Preventing PTSD in first responders

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- If you're in an emergency — your first thought is likely to call 911. But if your job is to respond to the emergency, how do you take care of yourself — and your mental health?

One option is the Code 9 Project, which aims to connect veterans, first responders and other emergency professionals to a network of support.

One of their primary focuses is on PTSD, both providing a pathway to deal with it's impacts -- and to eliminate the stigma surrounding it.

June is national PTSD Awareness Month, and Code 9 is working to get the word out to heroes across the country that support and an open ear are available right now.

The National Center for PTSD, under the V.A., says many adults experience at least one traumatic event at some point of their lives.

It's difficult to know exactly how many Americans suffer from PTSD, due to lack of consistent ways to keep count.

The PTSD Center believes about 6% of the national population has PTSD. Many recover, and no longer meet the clinical definition criteria for experiencing PTSD.

Roughly 5% of the population has PTSD in a year.

Women are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms based on PTSD Center data. This is due to the traumatic events that tend to target women, like sexual assault.

Veterans are more likely to develop PTSD than the general population due to the requirements of their service.

Code 9 refers to event and trauma related effects on the body as PTS -- meaning Post-Traumatic Stress. While PTSD is a well-known impact of PTS.

One of the group's leaders is Brandilee Baker, a co-founder and former first responder. She says the non-profit is focused on educating, training and supporting the people who help make our world safer.

Baker says that the organization also supports PTSI symptoms, meaning an injury tied to PTS. She says PTSI can affect the nervous system.

PTS can come from many different trauma sources -- from car crashes and shootings, to active combat.

Code 9 Project members say EMTs, paramedics, nurses, police officers, ER nurses, firefighters and active military members all face PTS trauma in their daily -- and not just from the numerous human crisis they deal with.

The organization helps families, find peers with insight into mental struggles and provide mental health support.

Programs offered by the Project aren't intended to replace or supersede any department programs offering support. Rather, Baker says it's a chance to have additional support via peers and individual needs.

The stress that many of these front-line responders face can take a toll physically — and mentally. 

Code 9 offers trainings for commanders, support for families facing PTS changes and holds anonymous meetings to help protect the identity of those seeking help.

Members of the program are unified by one goal — education and training to prevent PTSD and suicide for all first responders and their families.

Using chaplains, peer support, specialists and debriefing teams, Code 9's goal is to get responders help when they need it.

The National Center for PTSD has options for mobile apps and support on their website. You can also test for PTSD symptoms via the VA website.

Code 9 provides support across the nation, and has mental meditations available at any time through all the major music platforms. Baker tells ABC-7 that no matter where you are, the organization is willing to help.

All you have to do is reach out.

Avery Martinez is the Be Mindful Reporter for ABC-7, supported in part by Report for America. RFA helps provide reporters for under-covered topics across the country.

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful

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