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With Support, Police Officers Can Fend Off PTSD

There's no question that members of the police force face traumatic events in the line of duty. According to a new study, however, their work does not necessarily translate to an increased likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), particularly if they receive appropriate support.

When IRSST (Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) researchers conducted a study on the risk and protective factors of post-traumatic stress reactions in Quebec police officers, they found that symptoms associated with the development of PTSD in these officers could be lessened or prevented with intervention. Such 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 TE [traumatic event] improves the chances of preventing PTSD," explained André Marchand, lead author of the study, 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," Marchand added.

Coping with Traumatic Events

Study results show that police offers have different adaptation methods and strategies at their disposal in order to deal with a critical work-related event. In fact, the police officers stated that talking to their colleagues, obtaining peer support and taking part in leisure activities are particularly helpful after a traumatic event.

"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.

Recommendations based on this research will help police departments create strategies to develop mechanisms that protect police officers from traumatic events and decrease risk factors. The study also could have an impact on other people with a high risk of experiencing work-related traumatic events, such as firefighters, paramedics, first-aid workers and first responders.

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 this study and were evaluated at four intervals. Among the participants, 64 percent had to draw their guns, 11 percent fired their guns and 28 percent used another weapon. Eighty percent reported a feeling of powerlessness in relation to the traumatic event and 59 percent felt a reaction of intense fear. More than half of the police officers said they experienced anger, 17 percent experienced guilt and 2 percent felt shame when the traumatic event occurred.

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