Report: 911 Dispatchers Often Experience Post-Traumatic Stress

DEKALB, Ill. (CBS) — Emergency dispatchers suffer many of the same kinds of symptoms that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, researchers at Northern Illinois University find that when 911 dispatchers are taking calls about children being killed, police officers being shot, and other traumatic occurrences, it affects them severely after they have handled the calls.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

They experience feelings of helplessness and intense fear, according to the study.

“There is very limited awareness of the difficulties that this population goes through,” said NIU assistant professor of clinical psychology Michelle Lilly. “What might be helpful is after the phone call is over, being able to talk about those emotions with somebody, versus just sit there and take on the next phone call when it comes in.”

Lilly’s study was the result of a survey of 171 911 dispatchers from 24 U.S. states. The average dispatcher in the study was a white woman, age 38, with more than 11 years of service.

NIU says the dispatchers were asked about the kinds of traumatic calls they handle and how those calls affect their emotional stress levels. The worst calls were those involving the death of a child – identified as traumatic for 16.4 percent of respondents, followed by suicidal callers for 12.9 percent, police-involved shootings for 9.9 percent, and calls about the unexpected death of an adult for 9.9 percent.

A total of 3.5 percent of the respondents reported symptoms with a severity level high enough to qualify for a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, NIU said.

Lilly conducted the study with NIU research associate Heather Pierce, who herself was a 911 dispatcher for more than a decade in the western suburbs.

  • da truth,over by dere

    so what do you think the police and fire feel then?

  • Study: 911 Dispatchers Experience PTSD Symptoms Too – TIME | Amazing News

    […] NewsNIU psychology study links 9-1-1 dispatchers with post-traumatic stress …NIU TodayReport: 911 Dispatchers Often Experience Post-Traumatic StressCBS LocalMSN Health & Fitness -NPR 83 news articles » […]

  • zatso

    Again, academics with a study to justify their salary.

    Their job no doubt has a job description. Can you do the job? NO! Quit and have someone else try.

    Are the academics trying to become expert witnesses for jury trials?

    This country is going stupid, stupider, and stupidest. I can see court cases because of this study.

    Every job has stress and thanks for the majority that handle their jobs responsibly.


    • james

      You sir are an idiot. The study validates an idea that has been around the job for a long time. Dispatchers who handle calls of such an extreme nature such as officer involved shootings and calls where you know there is nothing you can do to help except dispatch units can cause tremendous amounts of stress and even PTSD. i thank them for doing the study and showing the reality that dispatchers are the first responders subject to the same types of stresses and those that show up to the scene.

  • Diana

    Obviously “ZAtso” has never worked in the profession, nor has he listened to a frantic parent asking for help on behalf of their child, of whom they just discovered lifeless in the crib. I doubt he understands the emotional rollercoaster a DIspatcher rides when one hears “Shots fired, officer needs help”, followed by a request for an ambulance. And you just have to keep working, maintaining your composure, not knowing who’d been hurt, or maybe killed. Oh, and let’s not forget talking to a suicidal person who pulls the trigger while you are still on the phone with them, or the poor victim trapped in a burning house. No time to linger becuase the phones are ringing.

    Yes, we knew what the job entailed when we signed the papers. But believe me, the baggage doesn’t go away. We all hate it when there isn’t a happily ever after to every call for help, but that isn’t realistic. So, we push the bad stuff down and try to forget them.

    Eventually, the feeling spill out and the nightmares come out to play. A strong dispatcher finds a method to cope. Those who can’t, leave the profession. Unfortunately, more leave than stay.

  • clonazepam

    You fellas got a Facebook fan page? I’m liking all this, hook me up with a clonazepam link and I’ll send you a like :D

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