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New law protects 911 operators with post-traumatic stress

Workers' compensation should be there to provide for those who are hurt on the job, whether those injuries are psychological or physical. If you know anyone who works as a 911 dispatcher, you may see how seriously some of the cases they deal with affect them. It's devastating to hear someone screaming or crying on the other end of the phone line and having no way to get them help immediately.

Many 911 dispatchers are able to work through these traumas, but others need time off, therapy and support to get through post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns following particularly traumatic calls.

The good news is that a new law in Colorado has expanded access to workers' compensation to these workers if they develop PTSD from listening to trauma. In the past, compensation was available to workers who had seen serious injuries or deaths take place visually, but not verbally. Now, the new law, which was signed by Governor Jared Polis, will extend coverage to those who suffer from audible psychological trauma.

This is a major, and important change, because 911 operators are the people who are the first line of support in emergencies. They need to be supported and to have compensation if they cannot work because of psychological injuries from the job.

Though 911 operators are resilient, they are human. Hearing traumatic incidents can be frightening and cause anxiety or distress for the operator as well. Even the most professional and experienced operator may struggle with some of the traumatic events they're called about.

It is not unusual for 911 operators to suffer from duty-related traumatic stress. Dispatchers have been found to be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder just as much as their colleagues in the police or fire department.

Research has shown that around 14.5% of 911 operators have felt symptoms of compassion fatigue, which is a term used to describe a state of tension, as well as preoccupation, with the victims who went through trauma. With compassion fatigue, the operator may personally re-experience the traumatic event, even if they didn't see it take place.

If you or a loved one are a 911 operator, this new law can be helpful to you. If you're struggling with your mental health, you may now be able to seek workers' compensation, time off work and the support you need to start feeling like yourself again.

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