Williams: Suffering below the surface
One Man’s Rant
I recently met with Chuck Wynn, Chino Valley Chief of Police. The subject of our visit was PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among law enforcement personnel.
Chief Wynn says although he’s been in uniform for more than 25 years in Florida and Arizona, he only began to hear about the treatment and effects of PTSD in police departments within the past five to seven years.
PTSD was known as “shell shock” during World War I and “combat” or “battle fatigue” after World War II. Today, we realize that PTSD isn’t only combat-related but can occur in anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, rape or other violent personal assault.
As a general statement, the greater the number of traumatic events, the greater likelihood of PTSD. People suffering from the affliction may relive the trauma through thoughts and memories, flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. Drug abuse, depression, mood shifts and violent behavior are only a few of the potential outcomes that may result.
It took a personal experience concerning the chief’s own staff to confirm the pervasiveness of the problem. One of his most senior officers, a man with an impeccable record, sat in the chief’s office one day in tears, saying he couldn’t continue to serve in uniform. This officer’s breakdown was a result of answering numerous calls over the years for traffic accidents/highway deaths, suicides, child abuse incidents and shootings, among other stress-charged events.
An estimated 4% to 14% of law enforcement officers suffer from PTSD, although an accurate statistic is difficult to determine due to suspected underreporting. Law enforcement officers are at a higher rate of developing a cumulative form of PTSD due to exposure to multiple traumatic events.
Wynn says that, today, police academies include training in recognizing signals of PTSD in one’s self and in others and how to seek help for it. The Chino Valley Police Department conducts critical incident debriefings for officers who have experienced high-stress events. The group debriefings typically involve chaplains and counselors specifically trained in law enforcement practices.
Employment Assistance Programs also are available for police officers or staff who want to “talk out” concerns on the job. Faith- and non-faith-based counseling is offered.
In the past, police departments emphasized physical well-being among personnel, but current police administrations have broadened the focus to include mental as well as physical health among its employees.
Blue H.E.L.P. is an organization that works to reduce mental health stigma through education and to assist those suffering from post-traumatic stress. For the thir d year in a row, Blue H.E.L.P. statistics indicate that more police officers commit suicide than die in the line of duty. In 2016, the organization reported 142 officer suicides, while 167 died by suicide in 2018. So far in 2019, 106 have taken their own lives. H.E.L.P. is an acronym for Honor. Educate. Lead. Protect.
A growing list of organizations and recovery programs exist to assist those suffering from PTSD. Some specialize in military veterans, some in first responders (fire and emergency medical personnel). Individuals seeking assistance should consider whether a program offers long-term recovery by addressing the root causes of the disorder, or temporary relief though short-term distractive activities. Both approaches can be effective, but should be evaluated based on the individual’s situation.
In 2010, The U.S. Senate designated June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day.
Please note that this column only touches the surface of the PTSD topic. Individuals with PTSD or related concerns should consult a qualified professional for assistance.
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