PTSD and Policing: A Little Talked About Threat

March 20, 2018

PTSD and Policing: A Little Talked About Threat

by Ian D Scofield

Policing is full of its dangers, from going through doors to never knowing exactly what you will get when you show up at a call. But there is a threat to our safety and well-being that isn’t discussed as much as it should be, PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition can have a variety of different effects on the mind, which can lead to problems for the body. Let’s talk about what PTSD is and the symptoms it has.

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental disorder that is developed after exposure to an event that is considered traumatizing. That could be a life-threatening event, a gruesome event, a disaster, or similar occurrence. Upsetting memories are normal, but PTSD lasts longer than that.

Anyone is capable of developing PTSD, and it isn’t within someone’s control as to whether they develop PTSD or not. For starters, the amount of stress that you are under before an event can affect whether or not you are likely to develop PTSD. Making managing stress even more important.

Other factors for developing PTSD include:

  • Previous Exposure To Traumatic Events
  • Age
  • Length Of Exposure To Traumatic Event
  • Preparation For Exposure To Traumatic Events

It is true that in recent years, PTSD has become a lot more acceptable to talk about in law enforcement, but there are still plenty of places that don’t have the services needed. Or the ability to help officers. This is not only on departments, but it is also on the culture that has been reinforced by years of stereotyping mental conditions. As society and standards progress, PTSD will continue to be more addressed and combatted.

Policing and PTSD

In the last several years, numerous studies have been conducted on post traumatic stress disorder amongst police officers. These studies have found that just under 20% of law enforcement officers suffer from PTSD (diagnosed or undiagnosed). About 35% of LEOs suffer from some of the symptoms of PTSD, while not suffering from enough to be considered PTSD.

PTSD can make performing the job of a law enforcement officer very difficult. It can also interfere with your job enough to make it near impossible.

One of the unique parts of PTSD for police officers and military personnel is that they are continuously exposed to traumatic events. Studies have shown that continuous exposure to traumatic events can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD and it can also worsen the symptoms.

Police officers, like soldiers, live in an environment where PTSD and other mental health conditions have been stigmatized for years. They are fearful that others will judge them if they come forward. In modern policing, most officers are aware that PTSD is a serious condition that needs help.

You will also find that most departments are supportive of PTSD treatment. Because of the potential for PTSD to interfere with the performance of your job, it is important that you seek help if you have symptoms of the condition.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is what professionals around the world use to identify and diagnose various mental health conditions. In the 5th version of the DSM 5 you will find that PTSD is featured. Let’s explore the DSM-5 requirements for a diagnosis of PTSD:

  • The Person Was Exposed To Trauma (In One OR More Of the Following Ways:
    • Directly Exposed
    • Witnessed
    • Immediately Related To Trauma Victim
    • Indirect Exposure
  • The Event is Relived (In One Or More Of The Following Ways):
    • Nightmares
    • Disturbing Memories
    • Flashbacks
    • Emotional Distress Via Reminders
    • Physical Reaction Via Reminders
  • Avoidance of Reminders Of The Traumatic Event (In One or More Of The Following Ways):
    • Thoughts Or Feelings
    • Reminders
  • Negative Thoughts That Are Worsened Post-Trauma (Two Or More Of The Following):
    • Inability To Recall The Full Trauma
    • Negative Thoughts About Self, Others, Or The World
    • Over-Exaggerated Blame For Event
    • Negative Affect
    • Lowered Interest In Previously Enjoyed Activities
    • Feeling Lonely And/Or Separated
    • Difficulty Feeling Positive
  • Arousal Or Reactivity Post-Trauma Or Worsened Post-Trauma (Two Or More Of The Following):
    • Aggression And Or Irritability
    • Dangerous Behavior
    • Constant State Of Vigilance
    • Easily Startled
    • Inability To Concentrate
    • Problems Sleeping
  • Symptoms Last For More Than One Month
  • Symptoms Have Significant Impact
  • No Other Cause For Symptoms

It is important to keep in mind that the DSM-5 is a copyrighted manual. These are just summaries of the content on PTSD. For an actual diagnosis, you will want both a mental health professional and a full version of the DSM-5.

Symptoms of PTSD

Everyone and anyone can develop PTSD, even those who are most prepared for traumatic events. Knowing some of the most common symptoms of PTSD will help you to identify when you might be having problems after an event. It will also help you to best help your friends and co-workers when they might need someone.

The previous section is very technical and deals with the specific diagnosis. I wanted to provide a more reader-friendly version of the symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms are categorized into 4 different areas: Reliving The Event, Avoidance Of Similar Situations, Negative Changes In Thoughts/Beliefs, and Any Other Symptoms.

These symptoms are broken down into more specifics that you can find below.

  • Always On Edge
  • Depression
  • Difficulty With Emotions
  • Hard Time Falling Asleep/Staying Asleep
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Reliving The Event
  • Response To Similar Conditions
  • Self-Destructive Behavior
  • Sudden Change In Beliefs/Thoughts

After a traumatic event it is normal to be affected for a little while. If you find yourself effected for longer than 3 weeks, it is important to seek professional help. This does not mean that you can’t look for professional help before that period, it just means that professional help should be sought at that point.

Symptoms don’t necessarily happen right after a traumatic event. You can go weeks, if not months, without symptoms. It depends on the person and the situation. It also depends on further exposure to traumatic events.

Treatment For PTSD

There are a variety of treatments that you can find for PTSD. A professional will perform an intake with you that will help them to gauge the best treatment option for your specific circumstances. Often times this will involve getting a medical history and personal history. That means you will be asked a fair amount of questions. This is normal.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One of the most popular treatment options is cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). This type of therapy doesn’t require medication and is taught by a specialist to a patient. In CBT you are taught to analyze negative, or non-productive, thoughts. When you find these thoughts you challenge them and overcome them.

Eye Movement Therapy

Some therapists are prescribing eye movement therapy that uses the movement of the eyes to reduce stress levels. Like with CBT, this can be taught to patients so that they can perform the eye movement therapy at any time.


Psychologists will often prescribe medication, at least at the start, to help ease symptoms. The most common medication is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). SSRIs are used to combat both depression and anxiety. Medication like these can have side effects and clinical professionals will work with you to monitor your symptoms.

Resources For Law Enforcement Officers With PTSD

Over the last few years, PTSD has been a hot topic among the military and civilian worlds alike. This has resulted in a plethora of resources becoming available. Make sure that you know what resources are available to help yourself and others. We will cover a few of them here, but your department should be able to help you connect with more. As should your health insurance provider.

Warriors Heart

Warriors Heart is a charity organization that helps law enforcement officers, soldiers, and other first responders who have PTSD, addiction problems, and chemical dependency. The program has 24/7 support available at 888-396-2759. Take a look at their website to see some of the offerings Warriors Heart has.

The Badge Of Life

The Badge of Life aims to take action before PTSD takes hold. It takes aim to teach self-care for police officers. One concept fuels The Badge Of Life, the idea that psychological survival needs to be taught to officers.


Seeing a local therapist is typically a good first step to getting treatment. They are able to give you one on one time that will aid you in developing a personalized treatment plan. Going through your insurance company should help you to find a covered therapist.

Emergency Departments

No one really wants to go to an emergency department unless it is absolutely necessary but if you are in crisis from PTSD, going to an emergency department can help you to get immediate help. A hospital has resources that can be provided and can sometimes help you get the start you need for immediate care. An ED is not a good place to go for non-emergent help unless you have no other option.

Remember, that there is no shame in any mental health condition. If you need help, there are resources out there. The number of resources is constantly growing too. Stay healthy. And don’t forget to stay safe out there.


About The Author:

Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice.  He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer.  At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content.  Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.


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