Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Police and PTSD

All too many police officers are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD. This disorder is a response to traumatic stress. Seeing victims of violence. Having to kill some one in the line of duty. Being hurt in the line of duty. Seeing the death of a child.

This disorder was first identified as "shell shock" and soldiers were it's 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 Viet Nam War we learned more about "shell shock" and stated calling it PTSD. With more research we found that soldiers were not it's only victims. We found out 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 in order to better help keep the peace. Some markers that stand out in children are abuse of legal and illegal drugs. Cocaine. Alcohol. Heroin. Pot.

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 guides 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 we should also 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 or compassion.

An online health guide to PTSD advises:

"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.


Anonymous said...

Good to see you have got this up so others can see. You are doing a great work here. Like to invite you to my site at

Would like to ask your permission to link to your site here from my one.

Thank you for the great work that you are doing here for your fella Police Officers.


M. Simon said...


Yor site is very interesting.

I am not a police officer. I am interested in PTSD from a drug war perspective. I believe most users of illegal drugs have some form of PTSD, from mild for pot users to severe for heroin users.

I will be adding you to my blog roll. Feel free to link.