Emergency Dispatchers Benefit from Rose-Colored Glasses

Peritraumatic emotional distress is a psychological condition that puts an individual at increased risk for depression and posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Specifically, peritraumatic emotional distress has been linked to increased negative self-perceptions and occurs when someone experiences a traumatic event and after. First responders and emergency personnel are especially vulnerable to peritraumatic emotional distress, and the ensuing PTSD and depression, because of the sheer volume of traumatic events that they witness. World assumptions also contribute to the development, or prevention of, peritraumatic distress. People who assume that the world is good and life has meaning are less likely to fall victim to distress from trauma. In addition, those who have a high sense of self-worth are also more resilient and tend to rely on adaptive coping mechanisms after experiencing trauma. It is well documented that both peritraumatic distress and world assumptions can lead to PTSD and depression. However, there is little research examining how these two unique factors relate to each other in the development of psychological problems.

In an effort to fill this void, Michelle M. Lilly of the Department of Psychology at Northern Illinois University conducted a study of 171 dispatchers for 911. The goal of the study was to determine if a positive world assumption and self-worth would mediate symptoms of depression and PTSD. Lilly and her colleagues found that the dispatchers who had a less benevolent view of the world experienced higher levels of distress, which exacerbated symptoms of PTSD and depression. Lilly also discovered that the dispatchers who had high levels of self-worth were more insulated from the negative effects of the distress than those who had low levels of self-worth. The results of this study provide a unique insight into possible future interventions. Lilly said, “Specifically, strong emotional reactions at the time of an upsetting duty-related event should be targeted for prevention of psychopathology, and further, an emphasis should also be placed on the extent to which individuals retain more positive cognitions about the benevolence of the world and self-worth.”

Lilly, M. M., & Pierce, H. (2012, January 9). PTSD and Depressive Symptoms in 911 Telecommunicators: The Role of Peritraumatic Distress and World Assumptions in Predicting Risk. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026850

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  • Coty


    January 17th, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    I have to say that anytime I force myself to come up with something positive to describe an event as it always makes me feel better about the situation as a whole. I know that these first responders and ems workeres have to feel the same way. But it has to be hard given the kind of emergency situations that they find themselves in and the things that they have to see. But they chose those jobs and they have to be able to process them for what they are, and to know that they are so important in saving the lives of so many, that this alone has to make them feel better about some things, right?

  • MN


    January 17th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    it certainly has to do with the optimism of a person. If I take a dim view of things then obviously its going to affect me negatively. Whereas if I view my surroundings as a happy place then i will have a much better distraction from the depression and am more likely to get out and do things thereby overcoming depression!

  • melinda


    January 17th, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    everybody values the self and although some people may be pessimists,they will never want to harm themselves on a psychological level.whenever there is an external threat,of depression or anything else,we try to fight it off automatically,and so the effects need to be generally similar in all,right?am I missing something?

  • E.Barry


    January 18th, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    Being exposed to such incidents on an everyday basis can really put a person under stress and maybe even trauma if the impact is big enough. They have to be trained to work in such an environment and a regular monitoring of their health will make things much easier for these professionals.

  • Brent


    January 18th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    You can;t be serious to think that just looking at something in a more positive way can help you deal.
    Get real people.’
    You have never had to see and do the things that I do on my job, and it is not all that easy to forget when you go home and go to bed at night.
    Sometimes all I can think about are the families who have lost something irreplaceable that day, and that no matter what I did it was not going to bring back a loved one.
    How am I supposed to think positive when I am dealing with all of that?

  • Petra


    January 19th, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    Do most emergency responders feel the way that Brent does? If so I hope that they offer serious counseling to them, because it does not seem healthy to have this kind of feeling at the end of the day.

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