posttraumatic stress disorder is a common enough malady for emergency
responders. Unfortunately, it is subtle
in its buildup and complex in its symptomatology, and is usually ignored by the
responder and his department until it’s too late.
we get started, let’s define cumulative. Cumulative is “increasing or increased in quantity,
or force by successive additions, something
that is growing by
accumulation.” In some cases, such as a success
or the compilation of knowledge, accumulation is a great asset, but when it
comes to seeing and dealing with certain scenarios day in and day out,
accumulation can become the cause of a disease or
a normal 20-year career in law enforcement and the number of unthinkable situations
officers are put into, either to fix something or render aid. Responders often
clean up after someone has
lost their life at their own hand or the hand of someone else or, in the worst
case scenario, being involved in a deadly force situation. Most people don’t
call upon a police officer when everything is conventional; people call when
the situation is beyond their control.
Some of these incidents can be unimaginable, such as gunshot or stab
wounds, critically injured people, rapes, death and then dealing with family
and friends who are in hysterics.
trauma extends beyond shootings and other “critical incidents,” however.
Among cumulative trauma are the days and
nights of being cursed and shouted at, listening to the screams, viewing dead
bodies, and the momentary scares and fears that go along with law
enforcement. These are the “bumblebee
stings” that add up; one or two may be tolerable but, as they add up, the pain
increases to the breaking point—and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
of these daily occurrences get filed away as the officer goes through his
career. Subsequently, he continues moving from incident to incident with very
little thought, other than wondering what lies ahead. These incidents may be
filed away but they
are not forgotten. In fact, one day the
slide show of incidents will begin to take its toll on the person, rendering him
worse for wear. Think of it like this: a
giant redwood tree stands strong in the forest.
Every single day, for twenty years, someone takes one swing at it with
an axe. After every single blow to the
tree’s foundation it becomes weaker, until one day, the final blow occurs and
the tree succumbs to the cumulative blows, falling to the ground.
catastrophic events such as officer involved
shootings where the department has people in place for treatment, the effects
of cumulative PTSD take a backseat and are rarely recognized and addressed. Unlike
a physical injury that may or may not
occur during a career, mental traumatic injury can happen almost daily. When
the demon of PTSD surfaces it goes
ignored and officers become a risk to themselves and others who are relying on
answer lies in the “annual mental health check,” in which officers visit a
therapist of their own choice at least once year on a voluntary, confidential
basis. Done like an annual physical exam
or dental cleaning, the mental health check affords law enforcement personnel
the opportunity to examine the past year, review what has worked well and can
be reinforced, and determine what has not worked so well. Only in this way can
the officer vent the
pressures of the job and find new ways of handling the cumulative trauma as
is time that the leaders of America’s police departments acknowledge that
violence and stress are at an all-time high, which means the pressures on the
men and women of law enforcement are also at a peak. Officers are suffering
because of a lack of
support in this area. Chiefs need to be
proactive by leading the way, having measures in place to ensure personnel have
a place to debrief their weary minds and get much needed help to deal with
cumulative PTSD—before it’s too late.
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