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When Helping Hurts: PTSD and the Police Force


National Police Remembrance Day commemorates those serving men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty, services are held around Australia to honour them1.

A young Police Officer is fighting for his life after being struck by a stolen car driven by teens. There have now been stronger calls to implement a “no pursuit” policy. Officers are being killed in traffic accidents every year and there have been numerous calls to keep our police officer safe while they are doing their day-to-day work.

Police and pursuits

Amendments to the Qld police pursuit policy last year have given senior officers the ability to order those on the scene not to chase offenders if they have already evaded officers. The changes have meant that the possibility of offenders getting away are much higher however, the priority is to keep the community safe. Read an update here.

Whilst the current policies are problematic there have been calls to implement more stringent guidelines.

How common are pursuits and deaths?

There were 148 pursuits in 2014-15 and 135 in 2015-16 in Queensland with only 3% posing a threat to life, or homicide. In comparison, it is estimated that one person dies every day because of a police pursuit; those killed included police, bystanders and suspects2.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

As we honour members of the force who’ve lost their lives, there’s another sad trend affecting our first responders that isn’t being publicised; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to an article published in The Conversation, police and emergency services workers are at higher risk than the general population of PTSD along with depression and suicidal thoughts. While the average person has a 1-3% risk of developing PTSD, among police officers the figure rises as high as 20%. This means that one in five police officers is now at risk3.

What is PTSD?

Blue Hope defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as “a severe and persistent stress reaction after exposure to a traumatic event”. Whilst not everyone who experiences a traumatic event goes on to develop PTSD, for some people the distress they feel does not subside after the event and might even increase in intensity over the weeks and months that follow.

PTSD has many possible symptoms including intrusive memories, vivid nightmares, hypervigilance, fight or flight reactions and experiences that bring back memories of the events, known as “triggers”4.

Police Officers and PTSD

Much like other first responder duties, policing is a stressful occupation, with officers potentially exposed to disasters, death threats, shootings and hostage situations. Blue Hope states that the number of suicides among police is much higher than the general population (18.1/100,000 v 12/100,000) and that PTSD is often a trigger5. In June 2018 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) joined forces with Australia21 and FearLess Outreach to release the report When Helping Hurts: PTSD in First Responders. After extensive research and discussions with police and other emergency services workers, the report investigates ways of preventing PTSD among police officers and improving mental health outcomes. For more information visit https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/first-responders-gather-launch-comprehensive-ptsd-report.

Getting help

If you’re a police officer in need of counselling or mental health assistance, contact Blue Hope on 1300 00 BLUE (2583) or info@bluehope.org.au.

Other crisis lines: Lifeline: 13 11 14 Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Have you been injured at work?

If you are one of the many Australians who have been injured at work, one of our specialist Workers Compensation Lawyers can help. Shine Lawyers assists with these claims on a No Win No Fee basis. Contact us now for a no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.

Extra information

  1. https://www.afp.gov.au/about-us/our-organisation/ceremonial-events-and-functions/ceremonial-events/national-police
  2. https://theconversation.com/one-in-five-police-officers-are-at-risk-of-ptsd-heres-how-we-need-to-respond-63272
  3. http://www.bluehope.org.au/get-support/information-for-you/what-is-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
  4. http://www.bluehope.org.au/get-support

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: October 15, 2018.

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