As of late, headlines have been riddled with reports of police brutality and officer-involved killings. The world is reacting with outrage as protests occur every day around the globe. The question everyone is asking is, “why does this keep happening”. Police are often the first people on scene for dangerous or troubling situations. Long hours, exposure to death, injuries, and other traumatic events can be incredibly stressful and take its toll on the mental health of those who are sworn to protect communities. But, with little time to process these experiences and stigmas surrounding mental health, many first responders are not receiving mental health treatment to address the damage a job in this field can cause. This disconnect between mental health care and high-risk work can lead to irreparable harm not only to the officers in the line of duty, but potentially to the communities they work in as well.
Discussions around police brutality have been vast and many have explored the topic of how to address it. Not only is it important to discuss establishing a system of justice in which police officers are held accountable for excessive force, but it is also crucial to discuss methods of preventing it from occurring in the first place. What causes incidents of police brutality to occur in the first place? Aside from systemic issues of racism and disproportionate policing of at-risk communities, research suggests that there is a link between pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in officers and police brutality.
PTSD and Police Violence
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs when a victim experiences an overwhelmingly stressful event. An accident, rape, combat, and natural disasters are some of the most common causes of major PTSD, and it can have a long-term impact on those who suffer with it. Fear, avoidance, and isolation can cause PTSD symptoms to evolve, leading to depression and other mental health issues when left untreated. Treatment largely focuses on learning how to heal from the trauma by developing healthy coping mechanisms and reprocessing of traumatic events.
First responders are in a position where they face a series of traumatic events strung together. The job is heavily focused on facing some of the worst situations and most traumatic experiences imaginable. Often, there is not adequate time to process these events before responding to another call. Although it may seem obvious that these experiences can be highly damaging to a person’s psyche, treatment for mental health is still highly stigmatized in law enforcement leaving many officers suffering silently. Not only does this increase the likelihood of police violence occurring, but it also passes trauma to victims of brutality as well.
PTSD can heighten feelings of fear, tension, or aggressiveness when a person is facing a life-threatening situation. This is further intensified if the situation presently experienced is similar to past events that caused the disorder to develop in the first place. This can create an environment in which first responders are more likely to react with a fight or flight reflex, and respond dangerously to situations they have been called to intervene in.
Stigmas in Mental Health Treatment for Law Enforcement
Although many officers report heavy workloads, high levels of stress, and express experiencing trauma from incidents that have occurred, there are not adequate resources in place to help them manage it. In many cases, discussions surrounding mental health and trauma can be discouraged for a number of reasons. Fear about job security, for example, can make it difficult to express a need for help. Rather than putting resources in place, at-risk officers continue to work in dangerous situations, putting themselves and those around them at risk.
Addressing the problem of police brutality is complex and in addition to changing how our justice system responds to these incidents, it is imperative to provide methods of intervention to reduce the likelihood of it occurring at all. Reducing stigmas surrounding mental health and treatment is vital to ensuring first responders receive quality care for trauma. Treatment for job-related stress can reduce the likelihood of PTSD developing. Furthermore, educating officers on how to recognize symptoms of PTSD is crucial for intervening. This would allow officers to identify problems early on before they come to a head.
Police officers can be victims of violence too. They are regularly exposed to some of the darkest experiences of people’s lives and without proper support in place, are likely to develop trauma that can be passed on to others. There is no excuse for police brutality and the current system is not working to stop it from happening. It is imperative to provide mental health treatment for those who are responsible for the safety of others. Not only does this help those in desperate need of support, but it also works to further protect the communities they have sworn to serve.
If you or someone you love is a first responder struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, allow Nexus Recovery Services to help. We provide outpatient services to the people in the Los Angeles area, and we’re passionate about helping people recover, so contact us today.