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PTSD the Nature of Police Thesis

One important aspect was that research findings suggested that PTSD was more common than was thought to be the case when the DSM-III diagnostic criteria were formulated. (Friedman, 2007, para.3) the DSM-IV diagnosis of PTSD further extends the formalization of criteria as well as the methodological consistency for PTSD and now includes six main criteria. The first of these criteria qualifies the meaning of trauma. A traumatic event is defined as “…one in which: (a) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event that involved actual or perceived threat to life or physical integrity; and (b) the person’s emotional response to this event included horror, helplessness, or intense fear.” (Foa & Meadows, 1997. p449) This also relates to the psychological symptoms which are categorized into three main groupings; namely the re-experiencing of symptoms, such as nightmares and flashbacks; secondly symptoms of avoidance of trauma and related stimuli and thirdly, symptoms of increased arousal, which manifest as the inability to sleep and irritability. (Foa & Meadows, 1997. p449)

4.2. The Effect of PTSD on the Police

One study on this subject makes the important point that “Rates of PTSD in police forces are therefore likely to be four to six times higher than in the general public” (Green, 2004, p.1). Taking the above account of the revision of the diagnostic category of PTSD, we are in a better position to understand the way in which this applies to the possible experiences of the police officer and why this profession is more prone to the effects of PTSD than many other professions.

The following is an actual documented experienced from a police offer and provides an example of the way that post traumatic stress disorder can affect an individual in this profession.

I am a (10 plus) year police veteran and (30 plus) years of age. I have become seriously concerned with some of the events that have been taking place in my life for the past two years. I have started having nightmares frequently and have great difficulty going to sleep at night. There is always a feeling of uneasiness at night and I have started to develop some unnatural habits associated with these uneasy feelings. At the slightest sound, I have to get out of the bed and check every room in the house.

( Brown, 2006,para.2)

In another study Lieutenant Lori Beth Sanford (2003) points out that police officers respond to stress in different ways and according to the manner in which the individual internalizes this stress. She emphasizes that all officers experience at least a few crucial traumatic incidents in the course of their careers. However, while for some these incidents have a minimal effect on their daily routine, for others “…the stress of these events becomes debilitating and intervention is necessary” (Sanford, 2003, p. 2). This is an important feature of the experiences of police officers under stress and is a factor that should be taken into account in assessing this profession in relation to post traumatic stress disorder.

The psychological and emotional impact on the individual as well as on his or her family life and relationships is clearly expressed in the following personal experience.

Certain events that I have experienced cause me a great deal of emotion l distress when I think or communicate about them. My hands are shaking here at 1:06 AM as I write this letter. I have recently found myself to be very irritable, and my wife and I often argue because I don’t want to go to social gatherings with her. I am not being anti-social, I just don’t like to be around people. I just like being with my kids and taking care of them. I feel bad about some things that are happening to me.

( Brown, 2006, para.3)

These are only a few examples of the most common references to the way that post traumatic stress disorder affects the police officer. It is clear from the above that the symptoms and effects of PTSD range from extreme anxiety to depression and forms of serious dysfunctionality, which can impact not only the individual’s personal life and career but also the functioning of the police force. These brief glimpses into the way in which PTSD impacts the lives of police officers highlights the central thesis that is being explored in the present study; namely that police officer is more prone to or has a greater propensity to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder than people in many other professions.

4.3. The Propensity for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The above discussion tends to support the view expressed in a number of studies that the nature of police work increases the probability of developing post traumatic stress disorder. For example, as one study states;

Some occupational groups are at increased risk of developing mental health problems due to the nature of their work, which can sometimes be extremely traumatic. Studies have shown that there is a high prevalence of PTSD and other psychiatric impairments in firefighters and police officers & #8230; (Ziegenbein and Kropp, 2012, para. 2)

A UK study also tends to confirm the general view that police work has much higher propensity for post traumatic stress disorder than many other professions. This study states that;

Causes of PTSD in police officers and civilians are broadly similar, such as motor vehicle accidents. Several cases of PTSD have occurred after high-speed car chases. However, police were very significantly more likely to acquire PTSD as a result of direct assault or from being threatened with death by guns, knives

(Green, 2004, p. 1)

The very nature of police work should therefore be examined in order to ascertain what creates the context or environment for post traumatic stress disorder in this profession. There are some statistics to back this assumption; for example, one study claims prevalence rates for PTSD in the general community are “…probably about 2 — 3%” while rates of PTSD in police forces are “…likely to be four to six times higher than in the general public”(PTSD STATISTICS, para. 2). However, because of various internal factors and a possible reluctance on the part of the police officer to admit to having or being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, there is little in the way of available statistics. As one U.S. police officer states; “Living through a traumatic event is hard enough for an officer, admitting that you are having problems related to that event is even harder” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Statistics, para. 12).

Therefore, conclusive and verifiable data and statistics on post traumatic stress disorder in the police force are difficult to obtain. There are however estimates that put the common rate of officers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder at between four and fourteen percent (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Statistics, para.18.)

An analysis of the nature of police work leaves little doubt that these estimated high rates are valid. In the first place the police officer is more prone to experiences of traumatic and stressful situations. This might be take the form of a confrontation with criminals or a stressful hostage situation — or being shot at in the line of duty. The stressful and dangerous situations that form an integral part of police work are an obvious initial indicator of being prone to PTSD. “Police are likely to be subject to a variety of traumatic incidents throughout the course of their working lives — physical assault, motor vehicle accidents while pursuing criminals, and viewing victims of sudden death” (Green, 2004, p. 3).

The exposure to traumatic and life-threatening situations serves to increase “… intrusive and avoidant symptoms, hostility, somatisation…” ( Ursano et al. 1995, p. 36). Furthermore, the risk of PTSD and related symptoms can persist for months. This in turn can lead to long-term symptoms such as acute hyperarousal, job dissatisfaction and problems with social interaction and family relationships.

In many ways the context of police work can be compared to military trauma and tension. This view is clearly summarised as follows.

Police officers are in many ways similar to military combatants, experiencing events in their work that involve treachery, violence, and death. It is argued here that police officers with long-term exposure to trauma may, like the soldier, experience the after-effects of trauma long after separation from the war. For some, symptomatology may be full-blown, for others, a residual condition may exist (Violanti, 1997, para.1).

An example of an actual case study of an officer who experienced PTSD serves to support the above views. This is quoted at length as it provides a practical insight, as opposed to the more theoretical assumptions, into the reasons why police officers are more prone to post traumatic stress disorder.

A 46-year-old policeman was called to a street where a stolen car had crashed into a shop front. As he and a colleague drove up, their vehicle was surrounded by an angry mob who were friends of the…

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