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Empower police officers to deal with stress, trauma



Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to potentially traumatising events.

This is very common in men and women in uniform (police). The matter should be addressed with sensitivity given that, more often than not, many officers do not overtly display weakness or vulnerability, as they are viewed as “very strong”.

This, unfortunately, worsens their suffering.

This disorder is a bit strenuous to diagnose due to the stigma its description evokes and the fact that it is often stereotyped as a mental illness. Nonetheless, if we create more awareness of PTSD, we can address this global problem.
Police officers affected exhibit symptoms such as avoidance of any reminders of the event that triggered the condition, physiological and emotional troubles and traumatic memories of the event.
  Exposure to traumatic events can prejudice the mental well-being of officers and affect their ability to perform their duties.

Behavioural dysfunction

If left untreated, PSTD can lead to behavioural dysfunction. The officer in question may become violent, resort to drug and substance abuse, or even become suicidal. Police fieldwork entails making decisions that are favourable to the safety of the public, which makes mental stability and alertness vital.

The officers handle cases such as severe assaults, see abused children or dead bodies and often get caught up in shootings and other incidents that put them at high risk of PTSD.
This writer is currently doing a study on the effects of PSTD on decision-making and the nexus between mental stability and police work.

Decision-making is essentially a high-level cognitive process that responds to the cause of action and is highly dependent on beliefs, perception, memory and attention. This is what guides us to handle issues selectively and appropriately while keenly monitoring the response.

PTSD halts the brain’s power to retrieve facts that act as sensory signals or warnings contained in trauma-based memory. The memories are frozen in the exhibit as though the scene is still occurring.

The root cause of PTDS is very discrete, making it personal to the person suffering from it, which also makes its triggers very different from person to person. For instance, it may be triggered by a traumatic experience one was exposed to, multitudes of incidents, or even exposure over a long time to traumatic incidents.

There is a need for more research in this area if we are to deal conclusively with this psychiatric condition that afflicts our men and women in uniform.

Although the best solution is to prevent PTSD among police and other armed officers, trauma awareness, trauma inoculation training and proactive assessments are needed.

Including PTSD in the syllabi of police, and academies is also critical.  Handling the issue would enhance professionalism and ensure good conduct, good decision-making, fewer occupational injuries and reduced violence and suicide cases among the police.

Ms Musyoki is a Forensic Psychologist.

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