Police officers who experience a traumatic event such as firing their weapons do not experience higher levels of posttraumatic stress syndrome than the general public

Police officers who experience a traumatic event, such as firing their weapons, do not experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome than the general public.

Post-Traumatic Stress Risk to Police Lower Than Previously Thought

Although police officers are at a high risk of experiencing traumatic events in their work, they are no more likely than the general population to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

New research from the Institut de Recherche Robert-Sauvé en Aanté et en Sécurité du Travail (IRSST) on the risk and protective factors of post-traumatic stress reactions in Quebec police officers found that despite the nature of their work, they experience no higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population.

The study, “Predictors of Posttraumatic Stress Disorders in Police Officers – Prospective Study,” also confirms that symptoms associated with the development of PTSD in police officers can be attenuated or prevented with specific and adapted intervention. These symptoms include dissociative reactions, emotional and physical reactions, a state of acute stress, depressive symptoms and emotional coping responses to stress. “Providing police officers with interventional support shortly after and in the weeks following a traumatic event improves the chances of preventing PTSD,” explained André Marchand, lead author of the study, a researcher at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and associate professor at Université de Montréal. “The strategies for adapting to trauma, such as developing a stress-resistant personality and obtaining social support, can be improved through prevention components of police officer training programs.”

The descriptive analysis results show that police offers have different adaptation methods and strategies at their disposal in order to deal with a critical work-related event The police officers who experienced a traumatic event said that talking to their colleagues, obtaining peer support and taking part in leisure activities were particularly helpful.

“The police offers involved in this study even advise their colleagues who experience this kind of event to consult a psychologist and are themselves open to the idea of receiving psychological support if need be,” said Mélissa Martin, co-author and psychologist at the Trauma Study Centre at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital.

Researchers hope that the study, the first of its kind in Quebec, will be used as a reference for further research using a sample of Quebec police officers. The knowledge gained will help screen for and prevent PTSD. Recommendations based on the research will help police departments create strategies to both develop mechanisms that protect police officers from traumatic events and decrease risk factors. This study could also have a significant impact on other people with a high risk of experiencing work-related traumatic events, such as firefighters, paramedics,  first responders and health care workers.

Eighty-three policemen (63 men and 20 women) from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) and other police forces who had experienced a traumatic event volunteered for the prospective study and were evaluated at four intervals. Among the participants, 64 percent had to draw their guns, 11 percent fired their guns, while 28 percent of them used another weapon. A feeling of powerlessness in relation to the traumatic event was reported by 80 percent of the police officers, and 59 percent of them felt a reaction of intense fear. More than half of the police officers said they experienced anger, 17 percent felt guilt and 2 percent felt shame when the traumatic event occurred.

TAGS: Safety
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