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C.O. first responders face rising risk of PTSD amid COVID- 19 pandemic

'We have to be that calming presence, but we still have a job to do.'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Amid the coronavirus pandemic, essential heroes are emerging throughout our community. And the job for first responders is even more dangerous amid this new, invisible enemy.

Iraq veteran and Bend Police Corporal Ian Macdonell knows all too well how being a first responder can affect the emotional well-being of a person over time -- even in far more "normal" times.

"For us to have to show up and be that strong kind of presence, and come across like we have this all under control-- we offer the appropriate resources, and it's difficult sometimes holding that in," Macdonell said. "It's always on the worst days of their lives, and we have to be that calming presence, but we still have a job to do."

Being a first responder is often a physically demanding job, and responding to calls can also lead to anxiety, stress and trauma -- and if untreated, it could even lead to suicide.

Andy Barram, a licensed psychologist who works with Bend Fire and Police, said there is still all too often a stigma surrounding responders who seek help with such issues, as opposed to the physical aches and pains of the job.

"That culture still needs to shift," Barram said. "That stigma against self-care, that any mental health (issue): stress, depression, anxiety, sleep loss, relationship issues that show up, mood changes, irritability-- those are injuries, just as a physical injury is. A little bit of treatment early on can go along way in continuing in a happy, successful career."

The Shield is a nonprofit organization in Central Oregon that offers free counseling to first responders and veterans, and employers won't be notified.

Over the past two years, co-founder and psychologist Dan Anderson said he's seen about 10 to 12 people on a weekly basis. He said the recovery process takes time.

"It's sort of like a reduction over time, like a gradual improvement," Anderson said. "Its not always a straight line in the right direction. Sometimes, there will be a particular stressful event that will bring things back. Then we sort of work it back down."

The Shield is funded solely by the public and by grants, but Anderson says it needs more psychologists willing to donate services.

Bend / Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Health / Top Stories
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Arielle Brumfield

Arielle Brumfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Arielle here.

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