Florida Public Health Review

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Background: Public safety telecommunications officers (PSTCOs), aka emergency “dispatchers,” are exposed to workplace traumatic stress and can experience situations characterized by uncertainty, communication difficulties, and a lack of resources. Traumatic stress experienced by emergency dispatchers has led to mental health symptoms. Purpose: This paper aims to describe the results of a study examining the patterns of workplace traumatic stress and the relationship between workplace traumatic stress and mental health concerns among a sample of PSTCOs. Methods: PSTCOs (n=54) participated in a cross-sectional, anonymous survey including screeners for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal thoughts, and harmful alcohol use. Respondents also completed the Life Events Checklist (LEC) to screen for exposure to emergency calls identified as having the potential to induce traumatic stress. Results: 18.4% of respondents reported experiencing moderate to severe levels of depression, and 12% reported moderate to severe anxiety. Of the sample, 14% met the criteria for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD, 40% reported hazardous drinking levels, and 10% met the criteria of being at risk for suicide. Overall, 72.2% of PSTCOs experienced at least one form of job-related trauma and varied significantly by marital status. Poisson regression revealed statistically significant relationships between exposure to job-related traumatic events and screener scale scores. For example, those exposed to assault with a weapon had depression scores 2.29 points higher compared to those who were not exposed (p≤0.05). Discussion: Employing organizations of PSTCOs should strive to incorporate comprehensive wellness programs emphasizing education, prevention, early intervention, and recognition of traumatic stress among dispatchers. These programs should emphasize peer support and non-punitive policies to encourage help-seeking. In addition, given that findings in this study indicate exposure to traumatic emergency calls predicts PTSD symptomology, legislation could consider including PSTCOs in Florida Statute 118.1215.