Study Finds Women Firefighters More Likely to Suffer from PTSD and Contemplate Suicide

According to a new study from the University of Houston, women firefighters are more likely than their male peers to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and contemplate suicide.

“Because women are such a small number of the population in each fire station, they have been somewhat overlooked when they are included in larger studies and their unique issues are lost,” said lead-author Consuelo Arbona, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Houston. “This study begins to explore work and mental health characteristics of women firefighters who make up a population that needs better understanding.”

For their study, the research team collected data from 2,639 firefighters, of which only 75 respondents were women. About 20 percent of the women respondents scored positively for PTSD and 30 percent reported lifetime suicidal ideation. The women who did report PTSD symptoms were more likely to be in their mid-career years than in their first 10 years on the job. Additionally, one issue facing women firefighters more than their male counterparts is the need for a second job to make ends meet.

“Women who had second jobs tended to show higher levels of stress, possibly due to having children at home. The findings indicate that this is a good area for psychologists working with the women to explore for effective intervention,” said Dr. Arbona.

The research team hopes that their findings will spark discussion about screening and intervention efforts for firefighters with a focus on PTSD and suicide contemplation.

“Our work provides empirical evidence that mental health variables like depression, general stress and having seen a mental health professional were positively associated with PTSD and suicidal ideation for both gender groups,” said Dr. Arbona.

Dr. Arbona is a graduate of the College of New Rochelle in New York, where she double-majored in economics and education. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from the University of Puerto Rico and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The full study, “PTSD Symptoms and Suicidal Ideation in US Female Firefighters,” was published on the website of the journal Occupational Medicine. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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