Minnesota Association For Injured Peace Officers

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PTSD - A Cop's Story

Excerpts from an article by Officer Richard Schmitt:

So what is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
No fancy clinical definitions here. It's actually quite simple. To understand PTSD as an injury, one has to understand that we all have a "self".

Think of your inner self as a part of you. Just like an arm or leg. The part of you that feels emotional pain. The part of you that hurts when you've lost a loved one or something special. The part of you that feels proud with great accomplishment or is moved by a specific song or music.

Though it's a part of every human being, it can't be seen, x-rayed or photographed but it is very real. Your "self" is what generates thoughts, opinions and feelings based on what your "self" experiences and learns.

That's the part of you that takes a hit. That's where an injury occurs that can manifest into PTSD. PTSD is an emotional injury that hits you right in the area of "who" and "what" you are.

It can be one devastating incident or call for service or it can be accumulated with several events over an extended period of time.

How Did This Happen To Me?
Let's back up. Remember the "fight or flight" bodily response we were all taught in defensive tactics training, firearms or self defense class?

This is where your senses become enhanced and a human being's basic instinct for "survival" is triggered. Everything becomes intensified and your body is processing an enormous amount of information almost instantaneously, evaluating it against its need for survival. Because your body is in "survival" mode at the same time this load of information is incoming, the brain relates the information gathered to basic survival.

I will use myself as an example. After arriving on the scene of a terrible vehicle crash, where there were obvious fatalities. The screaming I heard, the antifreeze I smelled, all of the information gathered, entered my "self" during the "fight or flight" mode, therefore intensifying this information when later recalled. In short, now when I smell antifreeze, my palms sweat and my heart races. I also have no problem telling the mother of a screaming, uncontrolled child in a grocery store, to quiet her kid down. I grind my teeth when I sleep and have horrific dreams recollecting the information absorbed during the "survival" mode.

Am I crazy? Am I a "head case"? No, I'm injured!

What Does PTSD Look Like?
I don't wear a cast, I don't show bruises or obvious injury. I do however have what the high paid people call "triggers". Remember the smell of antifreeze and the screaming kid? Those are just to name a couple of my own "triggers".

Though you can't just point to it, PTSD can be more obvious than you may have thought. Back to the "switch". On and off, on and off. The higher or more excited your body gets while in a "hyper-vigilant" mode, the lower you fall below normal to recover. Now rinse and repeat, several times. It's not long before your behaviors indicate your body's need to be on the high side of the line rather than the low. It's because of that damn "switch" that a steady normal just isn't an option.

Risk taking, large spur of the moment purchases, new or inappropriate relationships - anything that will keep you above that line the highest and the longest. These become a pattern of behavior that can be easily seen if you know what you're looking for.

We encourage you to contact us if it appears that you may have symptoms of PTSD: call 651-295-6232 or email president@officerneedshelp.com.

Our association has a no cost mentoring program in which officers who have coped with PTSD in the past can provide you with information that may help you with your injury. We can also provide you with names of professionals who have experience treating cops with PTSD.