Recognise - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Recognise…Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

PTSD describes severe and persistent stress reactions after traumatic events. You can develop PTSD: 

  • After a single traumatic event
  • After repeated exposure to traumatic events 

It is unsurprising that police officers are more likely to develop PTSD than the general population. Consequently it is important to view PTSD as a psychological injury, and not a sign of weakness. Highly resilient and skilled officers can develop PTSD. Similar to a physical injury, PTSD affects the brain: 

  • The amygdala (controls fight or flight response) becomes hyperactive
  • Prefrontal cortex (helps regulate emotions) stops working as it should
  • Hippocampus (assist with memories) does not work as well

Recognise…the symptoms 

As the brain processes the memory, it is normal to experience symptoms following a traumatic event. However, if symptoms persist for over a month and/or become extremely distressing, you may be at risk of PTSD. PTSD symptoms can also develop months/years later. PTSD symptoms fall into four categories: 

  • Intrusions – intrusive, unwanted memories, nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional and physical distress in response to reminders.
  • Avoidance – avoiding internal and external reminders of the event
  • Changes in cognition and mood – emotional numbing or difficulty feeling emotion, difficulty recalling information, exaggerated blame of self or others for having caused the trauma; overly negative thoughts/beliefs about the world
  • Changes in arousal and reactivity – feeling constantly alert, hyper-reactive and “on edge”; feelings of irritability and aggression; difficulty concentrating and sleeping. 

Recognise…and be aware 

PTSD will be experienced uniquely and it is important to monitor yourself in order to recognise symptoms early. People are more likely to notice symptoms that occur acutely, and less likely to notice the subtle effects of repeated exposure over time. Be aware that repeated exposure to traumatic events can cause “sensitisation” over time. When sensitisation occurs a person may experience increasingly severe responses as time goes on, even to events that previously would not have caused distress. This can feel illogical but is important to recognise when it occurs and to intervene.