You’re a police officer. We dedicate our life to fighting crime and helping those in need. We don't do it for the pay. We do it because we love our job and the difference we can make for the good of all. We do it to put the bad guys away, while trying to keep society safe. At times facing down death. We willingly put our lives on the line for those we serve to protect.
You wear your uniform and your badge proudly. After several years on the job you see the worst that the human race has to offer. Your skin thickens and you become desensitized. You witness things that no human being should ever have to witness. You are forced to do things no human should ever have to do. Disconnecting from your feelings is the only way to protect yourself. The person on the outside is not the person on the inside, and only you know that.
Your job eats away at your soul........Sleeping at times becomes difficult.....Images of events for no reason flash into your thoughts.....The days grow darker...... You are dealing with job related PTSD and you don't even know it. Your personal relationships with those you love become strained. Your family and friends watch as you fade away. And you do not know why you are the way you are, or why you are experiencing these things. You fail to ask for help because it would be viewed as weakness or it could get you fired. You live with it until you can’t.
PTSD is the dirty little secret that this profession keeps under wraps. It is time that it is addressed. In the course of their careers law enforcement officers are exposed daily to a variety of potentially traumatic events, including human tragedies such as abused and distressed children, the aftermath of domestic violence, homicides, horrific motor vehicle accidents, disturbing crime scenes, disasters, and for some being put in a position of having to take a life. Add to that the fact that a significant number of law enforcement officers are military veterans with combat exposure. It is conservatively estimated that over 40% of those who enter our profession will eventually suffer PTSD. In all likelihood the numbers are higher. In fact all in this profession will eventually suffer some symptoms. Some will be impacted worse than others. Most will carry on. Some cannot.
PTSD takes many forms from anxiety attacks to insomnia to flashbacks that creep into your mind when you least expect them and can’t explain why. The “nothing bothers me..I can handle it” attitude we develop to cope on the job is part of our culture. The warrior macho self image that we use to cover the toll this job takes on each of us bottles up reality. It extends past our years on the job. When you retire or leave the badge you take your collective memories with you.
An officer with PTSD who does not receive treatment is truly alone, afraid to admit his or her suffering from the effects of a job related traumatic event that can lead the officer to alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, termination of employment, and for some suicide.
Most local governments (employers) deny that police work leads to PTSD. Most states will not recognize it as an on the job injury. Colorado doesn’t. If an officer seeks help or admits symptoms of PTSD it becomes a fitness for duty issue. Many (not all but many) agencies will terminate employment on fitness for duty reasons rather than get the officer help. They will not acknowledge the psychological and physiological injury is due to the job. It is all about the money and cost, and as such they wash their hands of the issue and the employee. As such officers suffering from PTSD rarely seek the help they need. It is time for that to change. It is time for organizations that represent law enforcement officers to step up and shine a light on this. It is time for legislation that properly addresses this problem.
If a Uniform Model Statute was passed in all 50 states dealing with law enforcement PTSD the interests of the law enforcement community and the public would be well served. The lobbying efforts by the leadership of law enforcement unions and associations are a key factor in any PTSD legislation becoming law. No amount of complaining about costs from insurers and elected legislators is an acceptable approach against this important need for passage of PTSD legislation. Law enforcement agencies must also commit to train officers about the subject of PTSD and to commit to peer support for those officers that admit to PTSD and seek treatment. With proper treatment the vast majority of officers sufering from PTSD can be sucessfully treated and complete their careers sucessfully managing this issue. Without proper treatment some will spiral into human tragedy.
Vietnam veterans’ organizations spent over 40 years in convincing Congress and the Veterans Administration to recognize and treat thousands of soldiers who have experienced and still experience the effects of PTSD. We need to do the same with our States and local governments in regards to this problem within our profession.