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5 things cops need to know about PTSD

An estimated 10 to 30 percent of first responders will have some type of traumatic stress injury during their career


When I was in the academy I never heard anything about the psychological effects of a police career, and now at least we have started to have a conversation about this threat. The continued stress of a 20-plus year career — with the daily ups and downs — slowly wears away at our psyche. Add in a major traumatic incident such as the death of a co-worker, child, or someone attempting to take your life and you will likely feel the backlash of trauma. It is estimated that between 10 to 30 percent of first responders will have some type of traumatic stress injury during their career.

Awareness is the key to managing traumatic stress. June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day — as a matter of fact, the Senate has designated June as National PTSD Awareness Month. In preparing for this article, I read the Senate Resolution designating this day. It was initially created for military veterans, but like raid tactics, medical techniques, and equipment that has been so readily adopted by law enforcement agencies and its members across the country, PTSD Awareness Day needs to be adopted as well. 

PTSD is just as real of a threat to law enforcement officers and other first responders as it is to military members. Like any other injury sustained in the line of duty, it is not automatically the end of a career or your life; but to maintain both of these things you must be aware, prepare in advance, and seek immediate care if things are becoming unmanageable. 

Here’s what we need to be aware of:

1.    It’s normal: Like every other system in your body, the mind will do what it believes is necessary to maintain itself. Unfortunately as the brain tries to protect itself, the manifestations can have some adverse effects. The backlash from the traumatic incident may result in anger, memory issues, sleep disruption, depression, or any number of other stress responses. 

2.    Early intervention results in a better outcome: If you are bleeding from a GSW, do you want to see a doctor now or a month from now? Rapid assistance from a professional counselor or peer support team members is more likely to lead to more rapid recovery.

3.    Knowledge is power: Knowing the signs and symptoms can help us identify traumatic stress injuries in ourselves or others. We need to recognize that something is wrong before we are aware that we need help.

4.    We can (and should) intervene: We wouldn’t let our supervisors, subordinates, or co-workers, take on an armed subject by themselves if we had the option of being there, even if we were never requested over the radio. Someone dealing with the fall out of post-traumatic stress needs us to be there even if they didn’t call for us.

5.    There is no single answer: What works for me may not work for you. Each of us manages stress in our way and while some may benefit from one type of therapy others may need a different kind. The key is to handle the stress and not let it control us.

Someone you know will benefit from your awareness and that someone may be you. Traumatic stress injuries can be just as dangerous as physical ones and are more likely to occur to someone at your agency. You don’t have to have all the answers; you just need to know that the stigma of mental health issues is harming first responders. If your department does not have a mental health plan for officers and dispatchers, be proactive about getting your administration on board. Find local resources now before they are needed. 

Get help via the mobile-friendly 1st Alliance site, which just launched 1st help. It can anonymously help you find PTSD assistance in your area. 

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