is an everyday occurrence in every occupation and at every age. Stress happens
in learning, in household work and hobbies, in negotiating traffic, and in our everyday work.
Stress is inescapable. It happens at varying levels. The salesman, the pool sweeper, the cop and the candlestick maker all feel stress during their days. Eustress, we know, is “good stress” exhibited in preparation for an athletic
event, positive activities or goal planning. Everyday negative stressors can
be managed through a variety of well-known methods, such as good diet, moderation in habits, regular exercise, hobbies, a
class in organization, or even self-help books. Kevin Gilmartin’s book,
Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, for example, contains good lessons on
dealing with everyday stress and relax from their job by utilizing personal planning calendars for family activities, engaging
in exercise programs and controlling spending patterns.
TRAUMA: Unlike stress, no amount of good dieting, exercise
or planning calendars, however, will keep emotional trauma from playing havoc on your mind. The trauma that causes PTSD is not simply an injury to one’s “feelings.” It is physical as well as emotional—damage is actually done to the brain.
Stress does not lead to PTSD. Trauma leads to PTSD.* The trauma can be one incident or the incidents can be cumulative.
The “critical incident” has distinct advantages, as a “headliner,” because everyone takes
notice and CISM teams jump into action. The odds of swift therapy and recovery
are enhanced. Cumulative or mixed trauma, on the other hand, takes place over
years and is a “witch’s brew” that can lead to a lifetime of nightmares.
CONCLUSION: We need to be clear in our terms. If we’re talking about stress, let’s talk about it: the patrol cars aren’t being
serviced often enough, we don’t like a certain policy, or we’ve had to work three holidays in a row. We can certainly help an officer talk these things out. Perhaps
we’re approached by an officer whose teenager is rebellious and staying out late.
This is stress.
When we learn the officer’s
teenager has been killed, however, we are dealing with a trauma.
If we, as educators and peer support
officers, are careless in our terminology, we will only feed the confusion that has kept police mental health and suicide
prevention a world of unnecessary mystery and confusion. Let’s make sure
we’re clear on what we’re talking about.
*With any disorder is the possibility of co-occurring
depression and other disorders.
on: Breaking the Mold.