WSU, Sterling unite to help treat PTSD

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 7, 2015

 Fire Sgt. Jason Nelson waits his turn to climb the ladder while probationary firefighter Bryan Lynn climbs into a training fire at Fire Station No. 5. Sterling Heights plans to work with Wayne State University researchers on a model program to better treat and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders.

Fire Sgt. Jason Nelson waits his turn to climb the ladder while probationary firefighter Bryan Lynn climbs into a training fire at Fire Station No. 5. Sterling Heights plans to work with Wayne State University researchers on a model program to better treat and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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Physicians from Wayne State University have sought the city of Sterling Heights’ aid in creating an improved paradigm to treat post-traumatic stress disorder for public safety workers and military veterans.

The university researchers behind the comprehensive treatment effort are in the Wayne State University Physician Group’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and the university’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences.

The goal of the model program is to treat severe PTSD manifestations in the short term and to help first responders at risk to be aware of early PTSD indicators so they can prevent the condition from getting worse.

According to the university, people who suffer a traumatic experience or witness it may develop PTSD, which can produce anxiety upon encountering certain triggers. WSUPG psychiatrist and department chair Dr. David Rosenberg said in a statement that the condition may drive some people to abuse drugs or even commit suicide.

“There are proven therapies and medications to help address PTSD in patients, but these treatments need to be tailored for a particular patient population,” he said. “What works for soldiers in the battlefield may be different for a firefighter or police officer.”

Sterling Heights officials agreed to collaborate with researchers to help develop a model program that might work for other communities’ police and fire departments.

Sterling Heights Mayor Pro Tem Doug Skrzyniarz said his city is the first municipality to partner with WSU on this project. He said the city recently signed a confidentiality agreement to formalize the partnership, and they will have a design model in place soon.

“The hope is we’ll be able to implement this within the year,” he said. “There will be elements of it that will happen right away. … In the next 12-24 months, most of, if not all of, the elements to this will be implemented.”

Skrzyniarz classified the university’s interest as involving clinical research that could be used to change the culture surrounding PTSD and what it means. He said there has not been an ideal, specialized treatment program for first responders until now — otherwise, the city would have adopted it.

“What still happens today is we think of PTSD and other mental health-related things as being separate from physical (health),” he said. “It’s no different than breaking your ankle and breaking your knee. It’s an injury that needs to be treated.”

Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin said PTSD, if untreated, can lead to divorce, alcohol abuse and suicide. He said he hopes this effort will help first responders know how to identify, treat and prevent the condition before it ruins someone’s life.

“The reason I’m interested in getting involved is that our police officers and firefighters spend long careers responding to incidents that are very emotional at times,” he said. “For some people ... it builds up, and some people see the effects of the incidents they have been in.”

According to WSU, the physician group planned to have an Aug. 9 fundraiser to pay for PTSD research for police, fire and military veterans at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights.

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489. Learn more about the Wayne State University Physician Group by visiting www.upgdocs.org or by calling (877) 978-3627.

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