POLICE Magazine

JUN 2019

Magazine for police and law enforcement

Issue link: https://policemag.epubxp.com/i/1129771

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Page 12 of 124

10 P O L I C E J U N E 2 019 M ore than 50% of law enforcement officers experience a psychological trauma from a highly stressful event. erefore, as a LEO this more likely than not applies to you. After such an event, you may develop symp- toms leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some studies suggest that 19% to 34% of sworn officers currently struggle with PTSD. Dealing with PTSD often creates a cloud of mistrust. Seeking help from your agency is sometimes seen as taboo because of a fear that it might be used against you. I am not suggesting you shouldn't trust your agency; certainly, take what services they offer into consideration. e takeaway is to seek help, with whomever you feel you can trust. e question of trust also raises the question of advocacy. In my opinion, you are your best advocate. You need to do what's right for you and your fam- ily. No one else can do that for you. One of the first things you can do to help start promoting your own advocacy is understanding your relationship with PTSD. It's better that you frame PTSD in terms of when it will happen to you instead of if it will happen to you. Unfortunately, in this line of work, the odds are stacked against you. POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER PTSD can sometimes seem very confusing because there are so many overlap- ping symptoms with other mental health issues. Mer- riam Webster defines PTSD as "a psychological reaction occurring after experiencing a highly stressing event (such as wartime combat, physical violence, or a natural disaster) that is usually characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks, recurrent night- mares, and avoidance of reminders of the event." If any of that sounds too familiar, please go speak to a professional that can help you. With what officers see and go through, I don't know of any way to reliably fend off PTSD. For first responders, PTSD tends to manifest over time, result- ing from multiple stress-related experiences. For example, how many dead babies does it take before it affects you? How many mangled bodies wrapped up in car accidents? How hard is it to get the images of an elderly person's decomposing body out of your mind? On the flip side, it's not always about blood and guts. e key word in post-traumatic stress disorder is stress. Stress can be caused by many things including prolonged work hours, the ebb and flow of office politics, and dealing with the never-ending stream of people that seem to hate you just be- cause you're a cop. PTSD is not a symptom but a group of symptoms. As mentioned earlier, PTSD includes depression, anxiety, flashbacks, and recurrent nightmares. ough the symptoms act individually, they contribute to the whole. In some cases, PTSD can lead to suicide. SUICIDE As a military veteran, I am very aware of the association between PTSD and sui- cide. One study shows that up to 22 veterans commit suicide every day; that's roughly one every 65 min- utes. is is the number you hear about the most from the news media and veteran groups. One fact that you don't often hear is that first responders com- mit suicide too. e numbers we are used to seeing about offi- cer deaths come from the Law Enforcement Offi- cers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report. Unfortunately, LEOKA only covers felonious deaths, acciden- tal deaths, and assaults while an officer was on duty. It is not a true reflection of how many officers die each year. According to a study done by Blue H.E.L.P. (https://bluehelp.org), a Mas- sachusetts-based nonprofit run by ac- tive and retired police officers, between the years 2016 and 2018 more police officers died from suicide than for any other reason. For example, in 2018 144 police officers were killed in the line of duty, and yet in that same year 159 of- PHOTO: GET T Y IMAGES HOW TO SPOT PTSD IN YOURSELF KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR SO YOU CAN SEEK HELP WHEN NEEDED. H AMAURY MURGADO HOW TO...

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