Most people associate post-traumatic stress disorder with soldiers and others in the military; however, PTSD is as prevalent among police officers in California and elsewhere. The difference is that soldiers often develop PTSD as the result of a single, exceptionally traumatic incident, while the ongoing stress and trauma that police officers experience are part of their daily lives. Experts call this type of PTSD cumulative PTSD, and it typically takes a heavy toll not only on their lives but also on the lives of their families.
If you, as a police officer, witnesses a fatal shooting that kills your partner or another single traumatic event, you will have access to professional counseling. However, the progressive buildup of stress from daily exposure to traumatic situations often go unnoticed and untreated — creating conditions that could cause you to become a risk to others and yourself.
Typical causes of PTSD in police officers
The stress these people experience come at different levels of severity, from hostile attitudes and threats of aggression to life-threatening circumstances. They deal with dangerous drug busts, hostage situations, responding to fatal accidents and more; however, you never know where the next call will take you and with what you will have to deal. Furthermore, you must frequently make split-second decisions that could even involve the death of a perpetrator, after which you must deal with investigations into the decisions you made.
If you look out for the following red flags in yourself, you can seek help and limit the damage that cumulative PTSD can cause:
- Fatigue, insomnia or nightmares
- Pounding heart, chest pain and breathing difficulty
- Headaches, twitches, profuse sweating and thirst
- Vomiting, nausea, intestinal upsets or diarrhea
You and your family members might notice some of the following behavioral changes that might be early warning signs:
- Emotional outbursts
- Increased alcohol or other substance consumption or abuse
- Pacing and restlessness
- Anti-social acts
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Suspicion and paranoia
You or those close to you may also notice emotional changes like depression, anxiety, panic, guilt or fear. Other signs of accumulating stress and trauma include apprehension, irritability, agitation or intense anger.
Many police officers are not equipped to deal with the stress and trauma of their jobs. You might find comfort in knowing that cumulative PTSD may make you eligible for workers’ compensation under the presumptive injury section of the Labor Code. It includes conditions like pneumonia, heart trouble, cancer, hernias, tuberculosis and other work-related conditions. However, navigating such a claim for benefits could be challenging, and an experienced workers’ compensation attorney might be the best person to advocate for you.