Policemen and women make our communities stronger and safer every day. In doing so, they see daily conflicts, incidents, accidents and violence. This stress and pressure add up. Trauma can begin to impact the health and lives of law enforcement officers. However, this trauma and its effects are highly treatable.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma causes the brain to become over-aroused and active. It’s a natural response to a perceived threat, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Some trauma and stressors experienced by police officers may include the following:
- Witnessing violent crimes
- Entering dangerous situations such as violent households or robberies in progress
- Entering in dangerous car chases
- Constant stress of not knowing if criminals have a weapon or an intent to harm
- Witnessing disasters, acts of terrorism and murder
- Working with traumatized victims of crime
- Accidentally or purposefully having to shoot another person
- Witnessing or accidentally being involved in injury or death of a comrade
- Fear of riots or retaliation
Even positive events like a marriage, new home or new baby can cause the brain to react. Trauma doesn’t have to be rooted in one big event. Regular job-related stress and pressure can add up. And when you’re a cop? Even “regular” stress is a lot more than the average person has to deal with.
What Are the Effects of Stress and Trauma?
Over time, the effects of trauma can really disrupt individual health, families, and careers. Stress contributes to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a lasting mental health concern with even more symptoms and long-term effects than even stress and trauma alone.
- Re-experiencing traumas through vivid memories, flashbacks or dreams
- Anger and mood swings
- Anxiety or panic attacks
Stress, trauma and PTSD can also contribute to substance use. When a person experiences overwhelming or unwanted emotions, he or she may turn to alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate or numb certain feelings and symptoms.
Do Police Officers Really Experience That Much Trauma?
Mental health issues like depression and PTSD leave individuals feeling alone or isolated. However the reality is just the opposite — there is always hope, help and understanding. The PEW Trust reveals that 7 to 19 percent of our police officers report struggling with PTSD, which means that actual numbers are likely much, much higher due to individuals not getting a diagnosis or not wishing to share their diagnosis.1
Because officers often underreport symptoms of trauma and PTSD, substance use among police officers often exacerbates the problem. PEW Trust continues, “Police have a 69 percent higher risk of suicide than the average worker, and detectives have an 82 percent higher risk.” This risk doesn’t have to be so high. Treating trauma through therapy, compassion and empathy can lead to greater healing for individuals, families and communities.
How Do We Help Police Officers Address Trauma?
Trauma is real, and so is treatment. Several forms of therapy are effective methods for treating trauma. These therapy methods just have to be made standard and accessible. The shame and stigma surrounding getting help needs to be removed. Cops feel like they need to be superheroes. Or they may worry about their job security if they speak up and advocate for their own and others’ mental health. However, the only way to manage trauma and its effects is to treat it.
The World Health Organization explains that stress management techniques and healthy coping mechanisms, both learned through therapy, are effective tools for immediately responding to stress and its effects. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can effectively treat PTSD. The WHO warns against only prescribing medication with no supportive therapy services.2
Medications can cause substance use issues when used as primary treatment regardless of whether or not they are prescribed by health professionals. However many of therapy options for trauma can be integrated with treatment for substance use and addiction.
Finding Help for Police Officers
Trauma and PTSD are human experiences. They are a reason to get help, not a reason to remain silent. Speak up, and find effective therapy options for yourself or a love one. Reach out to Michael’s House at 760.548.4032 to learn more about professional and compassionate mental health care. We are proud to work with police officers and soldiers to help them receive the best civilian addiction and mental health treatment available. Ask us how we can help you verify insurance benefits for treatment. We are fully licensed and HIPAA compliant, and all calls and conversations are confidential.
1 Fetterman, Mindy. “Cops Get Help to Cope With Trauma.” PEW Trusts. 20 Jul. 2017.
2 “WHO Releases Guidance on Mental Health Care After Trauma.” World Health Organization. 6 Aug. 2013.