written by: Kelly Marquize
• edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick
• updated: 12/19/2010
A police officer's duty to protect and serve can put them in situations that can cause severe psychological damage. Having to deal with traumatic events day in and day out can lead to the development of PTSD. This article explores the symptoms and the affects of PTSD on police officers.
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What is PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that results from being involved in, or a witness to, a traumatic event (i.e. war, death of a loved one, natural disaster, personal attack). PTSD is most closely related to soldiers who have experienced wartime, but is now quickly becoming more prevalent and evident in other occupations such as police officers and firefighters. A police officer who has been injured in the line of duty or witnessed the violent death of a child, may begin to show signs of PTSD.
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A Growing Epidemic
PTSD is more prevalent than people may think. Police and PTSD are bound to meet at some point in an officers career, and most likely on more than one occasion. Because police are subjected to all types of human suffering and the darker seedier side of humanity on a regular basis, it is no wonder that these men and women sometimes find that they are unable to cope with what they are exposed to. It is estimated that roughly one third of police officers that are exposed to traumatic events develop PTSD (Qadri, 2006).
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The Affects of PTSD on Police Officers
When a police officer has PTSD, it affects them as an individual, their families, their department, and their coworkers. Virtually every area of their lives falls prey to this destructive disorder. If left untreated, PTSD can cause serious damage to interpersonal relationships and quality of life. Failure to get the proper help can lead to alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or even suicide. It is important for police and their families to educate themselves about PTSD so that they are able to quickly identify symptoms if they should arise.
According to the Mayo Clinic such symptoms include:
Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Feeling emotionally numb
Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
Hopelessness about the future
Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Irritability or anger
Overwhelming guilt or shame
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
Being easily startled or frightened
Hearing or seeing things that aren't there
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PTSD is definitely treatable. The most common form of treatment is the combination of psychotherapy and medication; together, they can help the patient regain control of their lives while learning stress management skills. Alternative treatments, such as yoga, spiritual counseling, martial arts, and art therapy, can also be beneficial (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2010).
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Ultimately, prevention of PTSD should be the main focus of police departments. It is inevitable for an officer to come face to face with traumatic events; however, if these officer’s are educated about PTSD then perhaps they will be better equipped to cope with the aftermath of such events. Making sure that there are support groups available and in-house counselors that are trained in PTSD should be mandatory.