HOLDING THE LINE
November 19, 2012 By Stephanie Conn
by Stephanie Conn
Since this column began in November I have received several e-mails from police officers and their families sharing stories of their experience with PTSD. It has been a privilege to bear witness to the stories of triumph, love and courage as officers have persevered despite their circumstances.
Unfortunately, I have also heard of the woes of officers and their families who feel they have been neglected by their department, colleagues and communities. Neglect has taken the form of denial of injury, denial of treatment benefits and the failure to provide adequate ongoing support services for officers and their family members. It is the ultimate betrayal to discover that the “bad guys” you thought you had to worry about pale in comparison to the supposed “good guys” you work for and with.
The Ombudsmen Report of the OPP came out in October 2012, outlining a systemic failure to support police officers in Ontario. If you have not read this report, I highly recommend it. It offers 34 recommendations to address the difficulties faced by OPP officers, including expanding proactive and ongoing educational initiatives, expanding peer support, expansion of and improved access to psychological services for officers, families and retirees, better accommodations for injured officers that reduce stigma and better data collection regarding stress injuries and suicides.
The recommendations for Ontario are very likely applicable to police agencies across Canada. Implementing these recommendations will take time, money and dedication. They will not take place overnight even if there is 100 per cent buy-in from police administration and funding bodies. Therefore, we have to determine how to sustain our wounded warriors in the meantime.
To those who are NOT the wounded warriors: I recommend you become familiar with how one develops PTSD and its symptoms. Most people know that it can come from a singular traumatic event such as an officer-involved shooting. Here are some lesser-known facts. Onset can be delayed for weeks, months, years or even decades.
PTSD can develop from chronic exposure to multiple “micro-traumas,” even if the trauma does not directly an officer’s personal safety. This has proven to be the case so often that the criteria for PTSD is being changed to reflect that police officers and other emergency service personnel ARE traumatized by their exposure to the traumatization of others.
PTSD has lesser-known symptoms that can be mistakenly attributed to character flaws or being a hypochondriac, such as lowered concentration, low motivation, general aches and pains, depression, apathy, exhaustion, losing things, accident proneness, anger and blaming behaviour.
If you notice any of these in a fellow officer, suspend your judgment and instead convey your concern. Your genuine gesture of kindness and concern can create a supportive climate where officers feel accepted; this may encourage them to seek help. Stand in support of your fellow officers whose injuries are not always visible. You never know what they are living with and have no assurance that the same will not happen to you. If it does, how would you want your fellow officers to treat you and your claim of emotional trauma?
To those who ARE the wounded warriors: Get help! You are not alone and not irreparably damaged. PTSD happens to normal people facing abnormal situations. Therapy helps you to properly process the traumatic event, putting it in your past. You do not have to live with your past haunting your daily life.
My own work with clients and several e-mails I received support the contention that treatment works.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) makes an incredible difference for those suffering with PTSD. It isn’t traditional “talk-therapy” but is an information-processing treatment where clients’ brains properly process events which were too traumatic to be processed when they took place. It is beyond the scope of this column to explain how EMDR works so I encourage you to e-mail me or look it up for more information.
With respect to the invalidation of your injury by others, it is hurtful to be betrayed and the consequences are more than hurt feelings. It includes not receiving proper benefits. You can be the voice for change, sharing your story with others. I applaud your advocacy work but I encourage you to recognize that, like every human being, you have limited influence on situations and others. Do what you can and let go. To do otherwise will only compound your anguish.
In closing, I’ll offer you an updated serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can and the wisdom to know that person is me.
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