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Post Traumatic Stress

Post Traumatic Stress is a type of stress encountered at incidents that are, or perceived as, capable of causing serious injury or death. The person encountering the stress does not have to be the one whose life is threatened.
This stress can also affect witnesses.

By it's nature, Post Traumatic Stress is one of the worst types of stress a person can encounter. It is stress of a nature that is threatening to a person's survival.

The psychological and physical reactions of our mind and body to Post Traumatic Stress are at the extremes.

Examples of life threatening traumas that can cause Post Traumatic Stress, in their general order of severity, include:

--natural disasters

--serious accidents

--serious accidents where a person is at fault

--intentional life threatening violence by another person

--life threatening trauma caused by betrayal by a trusted individual

--life threatening trauma caused by betrayal by someone you depend on for survival

Police officers, by the nature of their jobs, can be exposed to more stress and trauma in one day than many people will experience in a considerable period of time, maybe even their entire life.

Some police officers thrive on stress.

They seek out incidents that most people would not care to encounter in their lifetime.

Many people seek out a job in police work for this challenge and the personal rewards it provides.

Overcoming stress of great magnitude can provide great personal rewards, but these jobs can and do ruin many lives.

Dr. George Everly, a noted researcher on emergency services stress, estimates that at any given time 15-32% of all emergency responders will be dealing with a reaction to Post Traumatic Stress, and there is a 30-64% chance that they will have a reaction to it during their lifetime.

For law enforcement working in urban areas, 20-30% of the officers will develop a reaction to Post Trauma Stress during their lifetimes.

These figures are higher than the percentages for the

--general population (1-3%),

--urban adolescents (9-15%), and,

--surprisingly, Vietnam Veterans (15-20%).

For a variety of reasons, some of which are not known, many police officers work through Post Traumatic Stress and its affects.

The impact of Post Traumatic Stress on their lives is short-lived (if they suffer from it at all).

In the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), this is defined as Acute Stress Disorder.

It's lasts more than two days, but no longer than 4 weeks.

There are those, however, that will not be able to cope with the Post Traumatic Stress they have encountered. They may have handled many traumatic incidents without a problem, until one happens that breaks through their ability to cope.

These officers will develop what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is Acute Stress Disorder that lasts more than 4 weeks.

In their book on "Emergency Services Stress", Dr. Jeff Mitchell and Dr. Grady Bray estimate that without proper Post Trauma Stress training, response, and follow-up, roughly 4% of all emergency workers will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These figures do not include those who will develop a reaction to accumulative stress, which can have affects similar to, and additive to, Post Traumatic Stress.
They also do not include police officers who grew up in an urban environment and are Vietnam Veterans, of which there are more than a few. These figures also do not separate out those working patrol or traffic duties from those working specialty assignments (narcotics, vice, metro teams) from those working investigative or inside jobs.

Uniformed assignments and certain specialty assignments place officers in positions that they will be more likely to encounter traumatic stress.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

PTSD is a serious illness and is defined and diagnosed by certain symptoms a person exhibits.
It affects a person physically, mentally, and emotionally to the point it is life altering.
The symptoms people with PTSD exhibit are extreme and typically adversely impact their lives everyday. To cope with these symptoms they may develop addictions. It can destroy their marriage and other
relationships, and cause some of them to commit suicide.

PTSD is not something to be taken lightly.

Post Trauma Stress Disorder Diagnosis from DSM-IV

What is Post Trauma Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Overview (National Institute of Mental Health)

It is impossible to predict who will get PTSD, however, several factors are known to contribute to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These include, but are not limited too:

--personal identification with the event

--knowing the victim

--lack of preparation, or lack of knowledge of the event ahead of time

--the severity and intensity of the event

--accumulative exposures to Post Trauma Stress

--chronic exposure to a traumatic incident

--pre-existing Post Trauma Stress Disorder


Further discussion and examples:

No matter how experienced we are or how callous we think we are, there are incidents we may experience or witness that affect us deeply emotionally. These incidents may differ from individual to individual.

Some of us are more susceptible to certain types of incidents than others. Certain incidents will affect us all.

Our reaction to these experiences is to do what we have always done and been trained to do. We set aside our feelings, and deal with the incident. Our job, and sometimes survival, demands it. Afterwards, we don't make a conscious effort to deal or not deal with our feelings, we just move on to the next incident without even thinking about it.

Or if we do think about it, it's usually briefly.

Some of the worst incidents we have experienced are the cases we talk about the least. We lock them away. But our mind and body remember them. Maybe not consciously, but our reaction to the event has been recorded within us.

Recognizing Emergency Personnel with PTSD

Making matters worse, it is not socially acceptable for law enforcement officers to show the emotions we feel about certain incidents we experience. It's a sign of weakness, when we have been trained to be strong under all circumstances.

To show weakness is to experience a loss of control, and we are trained and programmed to not lose control under any circumstances. We certainly cannot allow anyone else to see this, especially not our peers. It is inbred into us in the academy, probationary training, and all aspects of law enforcement that if we can't handle the stress we need to get out, this is not a job for weak minded people.

We basically hide or deny our emotions. It's what our job trains us to do. Further compounding this issue is that many employers, especially law enforcement, are in major league denial that their personnel are affected by trauma, and perpetuate the opinion that feelings are more a sign of personal weakness or personal problems than a reflection of cops being affected by the trauma they encounter on the job. Maintenance of this myth is more important than reality.

Challenge to this myth is a challenge to deep rooted old coping mechanisms that have historically helped law enforcement administrators and officers survive the job.

Training in Post Traumatic Stress, and psychological follow-up after a traumatic event is known to help decrease the percentage of officers who will develop Post Trauma Stress Disorder.

Given the odds that an officer will encounter Post Trauma Stress during their career, failure to train police officers about Post Traumatic Stress, how to prepare for it, how to recognize it, and how to deal with it once it has happened, is pure negligence. Not having a program in place to support those who develop job related PTSD is inhumane.

Both of these situations are unfortunately the norm rather than the exception for the majority of police officers.



If You are interested in Postal Traumatic Stress, E-mail and ask for a copy of this revealing report.