As many of you know, I am heavily involved with my local police department on a volunteer basis (no, I’m not a familiar face in the City Jail!). One thing that continues to gnaw at me is the stigma that surrounds mental illness and symptoms. There’s no better place for mental health resources than a police station, fire station, EMS or any other “first responder” office. Yet, many obstacles stand in the way. I wrote the following article for our local PD’s newsletter. I’d love to hear your comments and questions if any of this resonates with you! – Namaste.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur when any traumatic event is experienced or witnessed. For one person, it may be going through active combat. For another, it may be witnessing a wreck. For some, having a pet run away or being yelled at can cause it. It depends on the individual and the circumstances. It’s the brain’s natural response to an event that causes intense emotional distress.
The “hallmark” symptoms of PTSD are sleep problems, constant irritability or outbursts of anger, problems concentrating, being hyper-aware of his or her surroundings and exhibiting an exaggerated startle response. If these symptoms last for at least 2 months and interfere with any aspect of daily functioning, the sufferer needs to seek treatment.
It’s pretty straight forward, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. Many people who could be diagnosed with PTSD aren’t because they don’t seek treatment. American society still stigmatizes illnesses associated with the brain and its functioning, which keeps hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of its citizens just trying to keep their heads above water. There’s a certain shame to seeking mental help for some reason, as if experiencing this disorder (or maybe admitting that it is being experienced) makes a person weak, pathetic or un-manly. This couldn’t be further from the truth! It takes a tremendous amount of courage to talk to someone about the most intimate demons that haunt the mind. Personal growth and change is very hard work because the person has to face things that they have probably been mentally avoiding for a long time.
Fortunately, more organizations around the nation are encouraging veterans, first responders, law enforcement personnel and others who have experience “on the front line” to seek help if they need it. A powerful documentary is in the works to spread the message that seeking help is courageous, not cowardly. Entitled Code 9: Officer Needs Assistance, this film, “explores the darker side of law enforcement as it tells the stories of police officers and their families who are now suffering the mental anguish of the careers they chose, which has led some to suicide.” The 8-minute trailer may be viewed at http://vimeo.com/26689571.
While law enforcement is certainly not the only career or situation in which a person can be traumatized, it is a widespread problem in the field. Officers often feel that getting help affects the air of authority, confidence and machismo that they sometimes rely on to do their jobs. In reality, dealing with and processing through trauma increases the ability to concentrate, to evaluate persons and situations quickly and reliably and even improves well-trained, reflexive responses.
Help is available to those who are brave enough to seek it. A national hotline has been set up for first responders, public safety and law enforcement personnel and their families that is answered 24/7. SafeCall (SafeCallNow.org) trained personnel are available at 206-459-3020. Please don’t go on suffering (and causing anguish for loved ones) because seeking help makes one “weak.” Man up and make a connection!