ProPublica and WMFE are investigating post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects first responders and their families.

Whether it’s called shell shock or combat fatigue, there has long been a recognized link between war and the symptoms we now call PTSD, such as reliving an event through flashbacks and nightmares. That broad recognition often isn’t there for police officers and firefighters — even as more mass shootings bring the scenes of war to U.S. soil.

Psychiatrists now recognize that continued exposure to so-called bad calls over the course of a career can have a stacking effect, leading to PTSD. PTSD rates in first responders haven't been studied at a national scale, but smaller studies of firefighters have found it to be anywhere between 6.5 percent and 37 percent. We know PTSD not only affects the first responder, but also those around them.

And PTSD can lead to suicide. By one survey, one in 15 paramedics and EMTs has attempted suicide. That rate is more than ten times higher than for the general population.

We want to understand the magnitude and the experiences of PTSD in first responders — not only how many are out there, responding to calls and struggling in silence, but the specifics of what they are going through.

It’s why we’ve created a questionnaire for first responders and the people closest to them. Your stories will help fuel our reporting and broaden our understanding of the trauma in a group that feels it.

We recognize that these stories are sensitive and hard to talk about, but we are listening — and we will do everything in our power to protect your privacy. Our reporting is only as strong as the people who come forward to share their stories.

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