There is no doubt we see the absolute worst that society has to offer. We live in a world, where we potentially enter a new nightmare with every break of squelch on the radio. Any call, any time throughout our “regular” day, we may be exposed to a horrific event. The expectation of the public we serve, our coworkers, our leadership and all too often, ourselves, is to absorb what we’ve seen or been involved in and press on. We will deal with it later.
There’s still work to do!
The only thing that stops us or slows us down is physical injury. Many will fight through it, until the pain or physical limitation becomes too great. Sadly, we are dealing with what we see, in much the same way. We are waiting to heal the mental trauma until it gets to a debilitating point. Unfortunately, that comes at a very dear price sometimes.
What Is it?
Let’s first understand what PTS is. According to Psychiatry.org, Post-traumatic stress (disorder) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.
How much of that can we encounter in just one shift?
Dr. Ellen Kirschman has taken a stance we can all learn from. We have long mislabeled the effects of the job on our brain. It’s not a disorder we experience, but more appropriately, an injury. Statistics on the matter range anywhere between 19% to 34% of Law Enforcement Professionals suffer from symptoms associated with a Post Traumatic Stress Injury.
What Does It Look Like?
What do the symptoms of a PTSI look like? They could range from nightmares, irritability, avoidance, loss of productivity, depression / anxiety, repression, hyper-arousal (edgy or jumpy) and so many more. Most of us are close to those we serve with and can recognize symptoms, but we have to be strong enough to start the conversation with those we love to start the healing process.
How Do We Help the Injury Heal?
We need to erase the idea that we older guys were indoctrinated into that it’s not alright to discuss our feelings. Bravado and our super mega Type A personality need to seriously take a back seat to our symptoms. We know that a lot of times, these hinder us from even admitting to ourselves that there might be an issue.
There is no magic fix, but here are a few ideas that may aid the healing process and at least open the door for conversation with our brothers and sisters that may be injured.
- Debrief the incident with them. Sometimes just letting some analyze a situation afterwards can start the healing.
- Offer to talk, but more importantly, offer to listen. We are trained to read conversations with others and do it daily on the street, but we have a hard time utilizing that tool with our own.
- Be available. I’ve seen officers shut down, simply because they didn’t want to burden someone with “their” problem.
- Reassure them it’s okay to not be okay. We see and do things everyday that the human brain wasn’t designed to deal with. It’s okay!
- Lastly, try to establish a peer group whether officially or unofficially. Being around others who have seen or done what you did, and survived is powerful.
Many that I have served with and even myself have worried about how the brass will feel about us if we reach out.
Will we be shunned, labeled, re-assigned or worse, fired?
More and more departments in my area have openly offered sources of help such as EAP’. I had a Chief that brought in a counselor after a particularly bad and gruesome call. I’ve never seen that done before, but gave him kudos for the effort. When I was taken hostage years ago in the jail, we had mandatory debriefings and meetings with mental health professionals before we could return to duty. These are all positive changes to law enforcement.
How to Move Forward
Most hard charging, evil suppressing crime fighters have been involved in at least one incident that caused them to suffer a Post Traumatic Stress Injury. Some go their whole careers without one, and some will suffer multiple injuries throughout their service. The reality is, we are all built different and have different ways to deal with things in the past.
Whats right for me, may not be right for you.
The biggest key, in my opinion is that we need to make ourselves more available to our brothers and sisters. We are killing ourselves at a higher rate than what is traditionally considered a line of duty death. We need to take care of each other in uniform and it is high time that we take care of each other out of uniform. Speak to your partner, your spouse, clergy, boss, family, friends anyone you can to start turning this thing around.
YOU ARE NEEDED, YOU MATTER!
Editor’s Note: Law Officer is a taking a serious approach to the emotional wellness of law enforcement. We have partnered with SAFETAC Training and will sponsor their signature training in this area, “The Optimized Warrior” at a discounted rate to your agency. Contact them today for details.