Guest Column: Police and PTSD

July 1, 1993

Guest Column: Police and PTSD

By M.L. Simon

All too many police officers are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder is a response to traumatic stress, such as seeing victims of violence, having to kill someone in the line of duty, being hurt in the line of duty, or seeing the death of a child.

This disorder was first identified as “shell shock” and soldiers were its first identified victims. As time has gone on and further work has been done in the field, we have learned more. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, we learned more about “shell shock” and started calling it PTSD. With more research we found that soldiers were not its only victims. We found that police and firemen also “got” PTSD. Then we found that victims of severe child abuse and childhood sexual assault also got PTSD.

Now we know even more. The drunken cop who abuses his wife is a regular stereotype. Drinking alcohol to numb the pain and taking your pain out on those close to you are two recognized symptoms of PTSD. Alcoholism may not be a “disease” but a response to pain.

In fact, we now know even more. Police in some jurisdictions are being trained to look for signs of PTSD in the populace they police to better help keep the peace. Some markers that stand out in children are abuse of legal and illegal drugs.

The Western New York Rural Mental Health Partnership advises police that “self-medication’ with alcohol or illegal drugs is a common complication found in adolescents with mental health problems.”

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health says, “Youths who suffer from PTSD frequently use alcohol or other drugs to ‘self-medicate’ in an attempt to dull painful memories or psychological torment.”

Police in the above-mentioned jurisdictions are given booklets with the above guidelines in them. The only thing left out of the guidelines is that what afflicts children can also afflict adults. In fact, not even the police are immune.

Just as we should have compassion for children with PTSD problems, so too should we have compassion for the police and all other adults whose pain is still all too real. Running a steam roller over those already hit by a

truck does not live up to the American ideal of justice.

An online health guide to PTSD advises that, “It is important to be gentle on yourself and to give yourself time to heal.”

Just as it is true of the individual, so it also ought to be true of society in general. Once we see that what we have been doing for so long is inappropriate, we will need to change our behavior at once. After changing our ways, we are also going to need time to heal because hurting those who didn’t deserve it is a stressor. And stress can lead to PTSD.

M. L. Simon is an industrial controls engineer for Space-Time Productions and a Free Market Green (c) M. Simon – All rights reserved. Permission granted for one time use in a single periodical publication. Permission also granted for concurrent publication on the periodical’s Web site.

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