There is nothing new under the sun. People are just as cruel now to their fellow human beings as they were thousands of years ago. Yet it seems to be the only thing anyone hears about. The news has become a showcase of “most shocking crime” and “unbelievable horrors”. Headlines scream out the obscenities that mankind commit. Uplifting news is often doubted and viewed with a high degree of suspicion. If the average person makes it a habit to ignore the news because of all the terrible stories of crime and pain, then what does the person do who is responsible for responding to those crimes and lending aid to the victims? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can hinder job performance, which is why seeking treatment for PTSD is vital.
Police officers face an almost impossible task. They are armed with knowledge, skills, training, and weapons, and sent to the frontline to stand between law-abiding citizens and those with ill intent. They are required to keep the peace at all cost, knowing with even less certainty than most if they will walk back through the door to their home and into the arms of a loved one. Any job has its own level of pressure and particular stressors that can wear and tear on the worker. But being a police officer causes the individual to face stressors from multiple facets, which is what makes seeking treatment for PTSD important.
The physical demands of law enforcement are tough. Shift work has been proven to cause a host of health problems including sleep disorders, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Lack of a “normal” schedule causes friction with family and friends who can’t understand the time demands of the job. Physical altercations are not uncommon, as are stabbings and even shootings. Poor eating habits lead to a variety of problems such as cardiac disease and obesity. The mental taxation of constantly being on guard wears emotionally, physically, and psychologically on law enforcement personnel. Physiologic changes can and do take place when someone is always in a state of “fight or flight”. These changes can cause depression, anxiety, cardiac disease, and the list goes on.
What about the experiences and sights a police officer takes in over time? How do these images, sounds, and smells affect their everyday life and job performance? Listen to the evening news or read the local crime section in the paper.
Event after event of violence and sadness read on like a horror story. Police officers endure experiences on a daily basis that many people will never be witness to in a lifetime. Yet how do they manage to continue as a functioning member of society?
Many officers function by developing coping mechanisms. And while they may appear to be successfully managing life and work, oftentimes it is a short-lived victory. This is because most coping mechanisms are negative and have prolific effect on the officer’s work and personal lives. Coping methods can include alcohol abuse, drug use, compulsive shopping, gambling, eating disorders, sexual addiction, and other damaging behavior. Over time, these destructive behaviors erode at the officer and begin eating away at their life.
Beyond negative coping mechanisms, events that the officer witnesses can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). More recognition is being placed on the importance of First Responder’s receiving treatment for PTSD. Again think of the horrific reports in the news that most people read about while drinking a cup of coffee and perusing scores from last night’s game. Police officers witness these tragedies firsthand. These officers are the ones who have to ask a victim of sexual abuse details of the attack. Responding to vicious domestic abuse cases, child abuse, overdose victims whose child has called 911 because their parent is unconscious. Seeing the results of one violent attack after another, all while being on guard and suspicious of everyone and every environment. It only stands to reason that a large number of officers need treatment for PTSD.
Officers encounter events throughout their careers that can cause PTSD¹. So what do officers, their partners, friends and family need to be on the lookout for?
Unusual changes in mood
Physical effects such as rapid heartbeat, sweating
It is important to understand that PTSD can begin shortly after an event (or series of events), or it can become noticeable years later. The perils of the police officer last through their career, not just one shift. Each day an officer clocks in for duty, the potential for them being witness to events that are traumatic is high.
The stress of being a police officer is not going to lessen. In fact, it seems to increase every day. Tensions are at a high around the country. Police officers are dealing with a plethora of issues outside of their normal spheres. It is imperative that departments provide treatment for PTSD and other resources that give officers opportunities to release tension in positive ways.
Discussion after traumatic events needs to be more in depth than, “You okay?”. Police officers need to be reassured that learning how to deal openly with their experiences does not make them weak or incapable of performing their duties. Consistently bottling up every negative and traumatic encounter is simply creating a ticking time bomb. The pressure will become too great and will find an outlet, most often in negative and destructive manners. Resources do exist through church support groups and other community groups. But finding people who truly understand what you go through on a daily basis is one of the best ways to give yourself the opportunity to open up.
Sprout Health Group and Frontline Responder Services are a resource that understands first responders and the importance of peer interaction, peer support and treatment for PTSD. We have established the Frontline Peer Support Hotline (866-854-7400), available 24 hours, 7 days a week. All calls to the Hotline are answered by another First Responder. Regardless of what type of problem the caller is seeking help for, our staff of first responders will work to get them connected with the proper resource.
For first responders struggling with substance abuse disorders, Frontline Responder Services provides evidenced-based, peer-support driven treatment for PTSD. Our philosophy is to treat both the addiction and the underlying issues, such as stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression, which our first responders experience. With centers offering treatment for PTSD and other disorders strategically located throughout the United States, including; SOL Recovery in Scottsdale, AZ, Advanced Health & Education in Eatontown, NJ, and Cedar Point Recovery in Sacramento, CA, we are able to serve as a national resource for all first responders. Frontline Responder Services is one of the many treatment options available through Sprout Health Group. We provide substance abuse treatment for adults from all walks of life, including the loved ones of our first responders.
John C. Becker Jr. has experience as a police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John also possesses a unique understanding of substance abuse among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. He is the Director of First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group and Frontline Responder Services. John is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. John also provides training to a number of agencies and organizations throughout the United States. He can be reached at 215-833-1572 or JohnB@SproutHealthGroup.com
¹Felt, G. The Relationship of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder to Law Enforcement: The Importance of Education. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Retrieved from http://www.aaets.org/article92.htm
John Becker Director, First Responder Serivces
John C. Becker Jr. has experience as police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John is a former Detective Sergeant at Hatboro (PA) Police Department and possesses a unique understanding of addiction among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. John holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Behavioral Health Counseling from Drexel University and a Master of Human Services Degree from Lincoln University.
He is the Director, First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group.
John¹s prior experience includes working directly with first responders, both as a clinician and as an outreach coordinator, at one of the top substance abuse treatment centers in Pennsylvania. He is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. John is also a member of the National Police Suicide Foundation. John has provided training to a number of agencies and organizations, including City of Columbus Police Department Peer Support Team, New York Police Department, Philadelphia Police Department, Berks County CISM, PA Chiefs of Police Association, Pennsylvania Narcotics Officers¹ Association, Pittsburgh Police Department, and the Western New York Police Helpline on the topics of stress, trauma, and addiction among first responders.