It’s National Police Week in Canada, an awareness initiative created to help police connect with their communities and increase awareness about what they do.
Police officers hold one of the most courageous jobs out there, but what’s not talked about as much, is the stigma surrounding a topic that has a grip on so many cops—PTSD.
Police officers remain less likely than other first responders to seek help for PTSD and other “occupational stress injuries” such as depression and anxiety. Only 8 per cent of Canadian police is currently coming forward with PTSD, compared to 20 per cent of paramedics.
Because there is still a stigma regarding mental health and PTSD within police forces, many people still struggle to come forward for help. To get the conversation going, let’s honestly talk about what PTSD is. PTSD is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that occurs following the experience (through first-hand or witnessing) of something traumatic.
Individuals who survive trauma and have stress reactions (or re-traumatization) can develop PTSD, and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally. The effects of PTSD can range from flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, detachment, etc. However, many people with PTSD develop additional disorders such as depression, addiction and various other physical and mental health issues.
If you are a first-responder looking for ways to cope with your PTSD symptoms, here are some ideas:
- Mindfulness: bringing your focus and attention back to the present moment. In therapy, this can be practiced via “grounding” techniques. You can also practice this via meditation, yoga, etc.
- Writing: many studies have supported that writing about your trauma can be very therapeutic and stress-relieving.
- Reading: there is an entire school of thought around books as therapy, known as bibliotherapy. But reading and gaining knowledge on trauma or experiences can have great healing benefits.
- Deep breathing: in times of high anxiety or stress, deep breathing helps our bodies slow down.
- Book clubs/group conversation: whether you choose to tackle topics through reading as a group or simply having open safe conversations as a group, connecting with others can be very beneficial in healing trauma.
- Setting boundaries: setting boundaries for yourself and for situations or people, can help you cope with your PTSD and avoid triggers.
- Helping/volunteering: science has shown that helping others actually triggers happiness chemicals in our brain, so you really can heal yourself when you help others.
- Movies: similar benefits to reading or book clubs, watching movies can also provide beneficial learning and healing opportunities.
- Therapy: there are many benefits to talking about your trauma, and talking with a professional can be very beneficial. Trauma-trained therapists can offer you the tools to cope with your PTSD and provide valuable conversations that you may not feel comfortable having with someone you’re close to. Some psychotherapy practices that have been shown to work are: cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), EMDR, support groups, etc. Always best to speak to a professional first about what therapy route is best suited for your specific situation.
- Exercise: getting your body moving helps release endorphins, and exercise has been shown to greatly ease PTSD symptoms, especially when we’re feeling triggered.
- Pets: whether you have a trauma-trained PTSD dog, or just a furry friend to cuddle with, this level of caring relationship has also been shown to ease PTSD.
- Equine therapy: this type of therapy employs the use of horses to facilitate spiritual and therapeutic processes. It’s recommended you take this type of thing on with someone who can facilitate the process between you and the horse.
- Self-care: it’s always important to practice self-care and kindness with ourselves when coping with PTSD, and even when helping others, be mindful of our own needs.
- Spirituality: a topic talked about a lot in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, connecting with some kind of spirituality, whatever that looks like for you, has been shown to ease PTSD symptoms and help us move past our traumas.
If you’re looking for more guidance on trauma and PTSD, we post more resources every week on our blog, or feel free to pick up a copy of ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, a book full of raw and open conversations on healing and trauma.