Public Safety professionals are exposed to potential psychologically traumatizing events on the job every day. Workers in this industry see horrific scenes involving injury or death to their fellow man. Some may face a life-threatening event on the job, involving violence or the use of fire-arms. The potential for psychological trauma in these professions should therefore be expected, and all measures of support should be granted, without question, to Public Safety Professionals and to the agencies that employ them.
It's estimated that through the course of human life, each of us will experience at least a single traumatic event. The most common sources of trauma in the civilian population include witnessing someone being badly injured or killed; being involved in a fire, flood or natural disaster; or being involved in a life-threatening accident. For most, resolution of such trauma will come naturally; however, an estimated 8% of persons who experience psychological trauma will go on to develop mental health disorders, the most common of which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Carleton, 2014).
It's now accepted that soldiers who've experienced the traumatic stress of combat will develop this condition. In the United States alone estimates suggest that of the 2.7 million veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 500,000 will have PTSD as a consequence of their service (Veterans and PTSD). Estimates of prevalence of PTSD in the general population worldwide are conservatively set at 8%. In Public Safety Professions, prevalence of PTSD is determined to be 20-30% above the general population, a significant number (Carleton, 2014).
Currently in North America, acceptance of this consequence in Public Safety is fragmented at best. Although change is starting to move in agencies who employ this group of professionals, much still needs to be done. There are clear necessities that need to come to fruition for these workers and their families. Should traumatic events in this workforce be mishandled, and PTSD develops, this can impose an end of career and life-long disability on a worker and on her family.
First of all, what's needed is education. Many Public Safety workers report very limited training in regards to traumatic events on the job. Few agencies have developed formalized education initiatives. Policies and Procedures as to what to do when one has experienced a trauma on the job are reported to be lacking as well. So, the first things needed to better protect the well-being of these workers is quality education, and policies within organizations that reflect a full appreciation of the necessity to provide trauma-informed care.
Secondly, should a traumatic event on the job in this workforce lead to an onset of PTSD, workers need the full support of both their employer and their peers. Any mental health condition in North American society comes with a mark of stigma. Stigmatization leads many who may suffer psychological injury to not seek any form of helpful treatment at all. Given that this culture of stigma is quite evident in Public Safety Professions and Organizations, anti-stigma campaigns need to be included in any education initiatives brought forth to deal appropriately with this issue.
Many workers who are psychologically injured due to trauma report abandonment by both their employer and their peers. Some say that this betrayal is more damaging than the initial trauma itself, adding insult to injury, making recovery that much more difficult to achieve. It's important that this profession finds way to break down the barriers that such a culture of stigma can erect.
Finally, key to recovery from trauma in Public Safety Professionals is the receipt of appropriate treatments. There are now some quality studies from military sources to support a variety of treatment modalities. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, delivered by trauma-informed clinicians, is the most studied and accepted mode of available treatments. Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is another (Treatment of PTSD: National Center for PTSD).
The list of alternatives is actually quite vast, and given that each worker will respond to treatment differently, it's important to make available as many options as possible. Trauma and PTSD take specialized provisions of care. Regardless of delivered modality, it's therefore important that any care-provider is certified to practice and deliver fully trauma-informed services. There are biological, psychological, and social influences that lead to PTSD developing following exposure to trauma on the job. It's therefore warranted that any such care be holistic, utilizing a Bio-Psycho-Social model in provision of appropriate supports (Dogar, 2007).
Traumatic experiences and potential consequences to the mental well-being of Public Safety Professionals are highly prevalent in the work. Due to lack of education and the prevalence as well of stigma, many who experience trauma in the course of employment will develop PTSD, and some who are injured to this extent will never seek treatment. Such issues in this workforce should be expected.
Those who employ these workers need to therefore provide appropriate education, anti-stigma campaigns, and treatment supports, without question, for these workers. These professionals are there for us, often in our own darkest hours of human need.
It's time we step up in society and address this issue by encouraging employers, and our Governments, both Provincially and Federally in Canada, to better support the evident need.
These workers are there for all of us. Perhaps it's time we make necessary supports immediately available to them.
Veterans Statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide. (2015, November 25). In Veterans and PTSD. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html
Facts About PTSD by National Center for PTSD. (2015, November 25). In PsychCentral. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/facts-about-ptsd/
PTSD and First Responders. (2014, August 5). Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton: In The Conference Board of Canada: Hot Topics in Security and Safety. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/security-safety/commentaries/14-08-05/ptsd_and_first_responders.aspx
Treatment of PTSD. (2015, November 25). In PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp
BioPsychoSocial Model. (2007, January). Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad Dogar In Punjab Med. Review. Retrieved, November 25th, 2015, from: http://applications.emro.who.int/imemrf/Ann_Punjab_Med_Coll/Ann_Punjab_Med_Coll_2007_1_1_11_13.pdf
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Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2015. All Rights Reserved
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.