I’ve been mulling over something quite profound lately. It’s a topic that, as police officers, we seldom broach, but I believe it’s high time we did. I’m referring to PTSD, and I think it’s about time we punctured the shroud of silence enveloping it.
Did you know that the suicide rate amongst our law enforcement peers in the US hovers around 16 per 100,000, which is roughly 14% higher than the average rate for non-law enforcement individuals? Or that the divorce rate within our ranks soars as high as 60-75%, significantly above the national average of 40-50%, as stated by the American Psychological Association?
These statistics may just seem like numbers, but they sketch a rather distressing portrait of the reality for our fellow first responders. And behind these figures are real people, individuals like you and me.
We tend to avoid this conversation because, as cops, we’re expected to exude toughness. We fear showing any vulnerability, particularly amongst our colleagues. No one wants to be the officer who is stripped of their badge and relegated to desk duty.
So, what’s the result? We internalize everything.
The toll we pay for this silence is steep. We begin to suffer from nightmares, lose sleep, and become prone to irritability. Unable to cope, we often resort to unhealthy mechanisms such as excessive drinking or extramarital affairs.
But the impact isn’t confined to us. It seeps into our personal lives, affecting our loved ones who have to grapple with our mood swings and emotional withdrawal. This hurts them just as deeply as it does us.
Our work environment? It can feel akin to a battlefield, rife with cynicism, anger, and discontent. Without even realizing it, we perpetuate this toxic culture when we ascend the ranks without addressing our own problems, often taking out our frustrations on those under our command.
I’ve been there. I still have nightmares from the calls I responded to as a teenage EMT. The smell of the rubble at ground zero has lingered with me for over two decades. Just a few weeks ago, driving past a burning house emitting a similar scent, I was instantly overwhelmed emotionally, doing my utmost to mask it in front of my wife and son. And I grapple daily with feelings of cynicism and detachment.
The guilt weighs heavily on me, especially when I think of the stress I brought home from a toxic workplace that I believe contributed to my wife’s miscarriages. Even as I write this, I feel a wave of anger towards a leadership I felt abandoned by years ago.
But here’s the crux of the matter. Acknowledging that you’re struggling is not a sign of weakness. It’s the first stride towards recovery. It’s about embracing our humanity, not just our identity as cops.
Seeking help doesn’t signal defeat; on the contrary, it’s a courageous act. Whether it’s exercising, cultivating a hobby, or acquiring a well-trained service dog, finding a healthy outlet is crucial.
Don’t allow the entrenched “law enforcement culture” to inhibit you. Don’t let misplaced bravado hinder you from seeking help, even if it means looking beyond the confines of our profession.
And remember, this isn’t exclusive to us. It applies to firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and all first responders who perform similar work.
Don’t forget, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I have PTSD.” In fact, it’s more than just okay—it’s vital. And taking action? That’s not just courageous; it’s life-saving.