A career as a police officer or firefighter comes with some obvious and inherent dangers. But a new study shows that one of the greatest risks faced by workers in these positions isn’t so easy to spot.

The study suggests that protective service workers, especially those new to the job, are at higher risk for developing mental disorders than workers in other occupations.

"Our findings suggest that exposure to diverse types of traumatic events among protective service workers is a risk factor for new onset of psychopathology and alcohol use disorders," said Christopher Kaufman, co-author of the study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers found that some of the traumatic events most commonly witnessed by police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers include seeing someone badly injured or killed; unexpectedly seeing a dead body; having someone close die unexpectedly; or having someone close experience a serious or life-threatening illness, accident or injury.

In addition, the development of mood, anxiety and alcohol use disorders among protective service workers was much more common among those who had recently joined the profession.

"The association between the number of different traumatic event types and incident mood and alcohol-use disorders, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, was virtually confined to the group of early career protective service workers," said Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, senior author of the study.

Researchers believe that future research should focus on examining the ways that more experienced workers cope with common traumas on the job.

"Developing curricula in coping skills and providing timely interventions for early career protective services workers may help reduce future psychiatric morbidity in these workers," Kaufman said.

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