PTSD: Acknowledge, Address and Build Resilience
Why is the attitude, this is good enough, acceptable for a first responder’s mental health? Why do we accept the belief it’s up to them to know, understand and react to their mental health disease. When we as a society and police forces take this stance we perpetuate the stigma of PTSD and mental illness. It says your sickness is not accepted or real, you are weak and it’s your fault.
We don’t have the expectation of human beings to know, be aware of and understand everything about their physical health. We expect them to go for yearly physical exams done by a trained professional. To have their blood work run and other relevant tests taken, so professionals are able to watch for signs of unknown illnesses developing. They give their physician an account of their health and for their physician to ask probing questions if they see or feel there could be clues of illnesses developing. Physicians look for risk factors and see if more follow up is needed or preventative care is required for cancer, heart disease or stroke, as examples. They go through a decade of training to be able to do this with any degree of success. So why do we have the expectation first responders should have special powers to see inside their own brains and have an understanding of what is going on? This is complicated by the added factor of the brain itself because it is the part with which we reason and understand. When it is ill, like any other part of the body, it is not working correctly. We don’t even have this expectation for our dental health! We as a society accept every 6 months you get your teeth cleaned and have a checkup. We do this to prevent tooth decay and oral health diseases.
As a first responder it should be a known fact you are at high risk of PTSD and OSI. As you will see and experience things every shift an average person does not in there day to day lives. We do accept they are at a higher risk of physical injury than the average person. Everyone is aware of these physical risks and the importance for them to be well prepared, equipped, trained and supported. There is a known factor they are putting their bodies at risk every shift. Their force prepares them for these risks by training them in self-defence, conflict resolution and use of a firearm. They must demonstrate they can successfully carry out this training to graduate. There is follow up with yearly firearm exams etc., to ensure they have maintained this knowledge and skills. They are issued a bullet proof vest, baton, pepper spray and a firearm to reduce their risk of physical harm. They must wear this equipment every shift, it is mandatory for their safety. What training, equipment and follow up are they given for their mental health and what tests must they pass to show they are prepared and ready mentally to do the job? What mandatory check points are put in place to look for mental injuries? No one says you should have known you could be physically hurt and figured out how to handle it on your own. It would never be accepted to leave it up to an officer to understand the extent of their physical risk and seek out their own training and treatment. There are procedures in place to respond to physical injuries and ensure care is quick and comprehensive. It is the forces due diligence to do so. Why do they get a pass on a member’s mental health?
When an officer dies or is seriously injured in the line of duty, we expect an investigation and for a leader in their force to talk about what they are doing to ensure all was done to prevent this tragedy. Why do we not have the same expectation when an officer is diagnosed with PTSD, disabled by an OSI or takes their life? Why do we not hold Commanders accountable to ensure all was done to prevent these tragedies?
Maybe it should be a basic requirement a police officer and for their leaders to demonstrate they are open and receptive to psychological therapy. Not that they possess the naive belief they will be strong enough to be nonhuman in the face of trauma on a daily bases. Wouldn’t this be more reasonable and healthy? Shouldn’t it be accepted and for them to be prepared to talk about things they see in a professional setting and with one another? Who would be more adapted and prepared to be a police officer and an effective leader in a police force, someone who has been trained, made aware of their mental health or someone who thinks it’s not a big deal and they will be able to withstand it by themselves? The goal of all police services should be to recruit and promote officers who are able to accept they will need ongoing mental health help and training to do the job. Dealing with trauma will be part of the job and it will affect you mentally. We as a police service expect it to and are prepared for it. We support you and have procedures and practices in place for you. We want you both physically and mentally healthy.
A first responder’s mental health needs to be given the same importance as their physical health, so they can remain healthy and whole throughout their careers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal with the known factor of PTSD rather than denying and deflecting, especially when you are faced with the undeniable facts people are suffering along with their families. It is time for forces to stop avoiding mental health issues and the obvious need of its members in this area. What was accepted in the past is no longer right, when we know more we must do more. A true progressive policing organization would use issue of PTSD as a training and growth opportunity. Develop a culture of openness around mental illness by being open and telling member’s stories of PTSD and OSI at all levels i.e. anti homophobia campaigns. Show how it can happen to anyone and they can triumph and build resilience as a team. Show the team is behind taking care of mental health and it is important and valued. There needs to be zero tolerance for belittling or mocking members who come forward or are ill. A safe environment needs to be developed where there is no fear of retribution or harassment for seeking psychological assistance. Psychological awareness needs to be ingrained into every aspect of a members training and day to day police work. The goal of a police service should be to prevent these injuries by having processes and procedures in place to address mental health in the moment rather than having members get to the point they are off work sick for long periods of time and having their whole lives deeply affected. When this does happen a police force should not look down at the member but look at themselves and their processes and procedures. What is their responsibility for this occurring and where did their actions fall short for this member.
If we want these men and women, who are human beings first, to provide the best service to society in its time of need than we as a society need to demand they are taken care of in there time of need, both physically and mentally. PTSD needs to be Acknowledged, Addressed and Resilience Built for all first responders, it is their basic right as human beings.
PTSD: Acknowledge, Address and Build Resilience