They call it the silent killer.
Studies suggest ten percent (10%) of emergency responders (Police, Fire, Paramedics) suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
The RCMP recently confirmed thirty-one (31) serving and retired Police Officers have committed suicide since 2006. Four of these deaths occurred within just the past year.
Twenty-three (23) OPP Officers have committed suicide since 1989.
On the positive side, it seems our collective awareness and understanding of the devastating impacts of PTSD has been raised.
That said, Police Organizations have been slow to respond to the near epidemic levels of Police Officer suicide.
A Cure for the Silent Killer
Last October I attended a PTSD workshop hosted by the NorthWest Law Enforcement Academy featuring Clinical Psychologist Dr. Doug Tataryn, Ph.D. (C.Psych).
Dr. Tataryn received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1991 from the University of Arizona and now works full-time in private practice where he works in research, sports psychology, performance enhancement and life coaching.
He is published in Psychology, health services research and research methodology and has recently evolved his practice into the study and treatment of PTSD and believes he can cure the devastating affliction.
During the workshop, Dr. Tataryn identified the diagnostic criteria for PTSD and discussed impediments to treatment such as social stigma, societal perceptions that people suffering from PTSD may be dangerous, crazy, weak, attention seeking, “not bad enough” or damaged.
“PTSD doesn’t get better on its own,” he stressed.
Non-Healthy Coping vs Healthy Coping Methods
According to Dr. Tataryn, men and women engage in different non-healthy coping methods.
- Men tend to use alcohol more than women and often experience depression, conduct disorder, drug abuse and suffer from anxiety.
- Approximately 50% of women experience depression, may use alcohol and suffer from varying degrees of social anxiety.
Healthy coping methods were identified as:
- Breathing exercises
- Autogenic training
- Muscle relaxation
- Use of web-based or smart phone apps
According to Dr. Tataryn, “helplessness,” is the best predictor of suicide.
The Human Condition
If you’ve never heard of the “triune brain theory” you should take some time to do the research. It explains much about human evolution and how we think, feel and respond to each other and the world around us.
It was a fascinating part of Dr. Tataryn’s presentation.
Equally fascinating was the discussion regarding emotions and feelings.
Emotions and feelings are not something men employed in Law Enforcement often discuss. Most of us were raised in a generation where we were told, “Big boys don’t cry.”
We were taught to deny, reject and internalize our emotional pain.
That kind of socialization has a predictable outcome.
“Feelings are not emotions and emotions are not feelings,” Dr. Tataryn explained.
“Feelings cause emotion,” he stressed.
“Emotions greatly affect the human body, in the belly, solar plexus, chest and in the muscles, face and limbs.”
Dr. Tataryn has specialized in research, statistics gathering and analysis for much of his professional life. After conducting decades of research he’s identified nine (9) core feelings that can have a devastating effect on a person’s emotional health and well-being.
These core feelings are;
- Feelings of being alone
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Feelings of insignificance
- Feelings of emptiness or loss
- Feeling bad
- Feeling lost or disoriented
Our feelings activate our emotions and are precursors to our emotional response.
As I processed the discussion regarding feelings I could easily connect the dots between people I’ve known in my personal and professional life who were emotionally handcuffed by one or more of these core feelings.
Many of them struggled with serious drug or alcohol addictions, spent time in mental health facilities, attempted or committed suicide.
I had somewhat of an epiphany when Dr. Tataryn stressed, “Processed feelings become an event while unprocessed feelings become a sense of self.”
The need Law Enforcement Officers and EMS workers to recognize, accept and process our feelings essentially becomes a life or death proposition. When exposed to emotionally damaging trauma, we must process our feelings or risk being consumed by them.
Treatment and Healing
As the clock ticked, the discussion turned to emotional processing and crying.
I was enlightened to learn there are two types of crying – healing crying and non-healing crying.
Non-healing crying can be described as crying out of exhaustion or anger.
Healing crying can fall into two categories;
- Present Oriented – crying, acknowledging, feeling
- Historically Oriented – recognizing an emotional response and tracing it back to feelings that may have been long-buried
The last time I cried was November 21, 1996.
It was present oriented crying.
I was heading out to dinner with my wife to celebrate her birthday when the phone rang. It was my youngest sister calling with news my father died suddenly. He wasn’t sick or even sickly, he gave every appearance he was a strong, healthy man.
The shock and suddenness of the news hit me hard, harder than I would ever have expected.
The fact we had a strained, disconnected relationship and the finality of it all left me feeling deep remorseful sadness. I acknowledged the sadness, identified and accepted the feelings I was experiencing and cried like a man.
It was healthy.
It was closure.
It was healing crying.
I didn’t fully understand it at the time but I understand it now.
I think its important to know the difference between healing and non-healing crying.
That brought us to treatment, the primary topic of interest for most workshop attendees.
Dr. Tataryn suggests PTSD is a treatable condition and indicates approximately 90% of his PTSD clients have experienced major reductions in their symptoms.
Five Steps for Emotional Healing
Most people would acknowledge PTSD is a complex condition and might expect the treatment to be just as complex.
It’s not as complicated as you might think.
In most cases, PTSD occurs as a result of some form of emotional injury caused by actual, threatened or exposure to death, bodily injury, sexual assault or some other form of trauma.
These events can happen to you, someone close to you or you may be a witness.
Emergency workers and staff, by virtue of their employment, often experience repeated, direct or indirect exposure to these types of traumatic events.
It only makes sense that treatment for exposure to emotionally damaging events requires some form of emotional healing.
Dr. Tataryn subscribes to a five step approach to emotional healing that largely focuses on emotional expression.
Step 1 – Notice
- notice or recognize you have been affected by an emotionally traumatic event
Step 2 – Experience
- allow yourself to experience your feelings in the core of your body, allow yourself to breathe, breathe deeply
Step 3 – Differentiate
- find the words that fit or come close to fitting your feelings or emotions
Step 4 – Express
- express your feelings or emotions in words to someone you can trust
Step 5 – Resonance
- let your feelings resonate inside of you, feel resolved
Remember, “Processed feelings become an event while unprocessed feelings become a sense of self.”
“If you are crying and expressing your feelings, the healing process begins,” Dr. Tataryn suggests.
PTSD is a critically important issue facing Police Officers and Emergency Services personnel.
It’s time for Executive Management Teams in these Organizations to take notice, be proactive and place a high priority on the emotional health and well-being of their employees.
I was encouraged by Dr. Tataryn’s optimism and commitment to heal people affected by PTSD.
On the other hand, I was discouraged by the relatively low number of workshop attendees.
The room should have been filled with serving or retired Police Officers, Firefighters, Paramedics or anyone else exposed to emotional trauma in their private or professional lives.
I hope to see a larger crowd for the next event.
A firm date for Dr. Tataryn’s January 2016 workshop at the NorthWest Law Enforcement Academy has not been set.
To register, or for more information, call the NWLEA office at 204-953-8300.
Police Insider readers who attend event will receive a $20 discount on workshop registration fee.
Be sure to mention The Police Insider at the time of registration to receive discount.
The Province of Manitoba will recognize PTSD as a work related disease effective January 1, 2016.
This will be the first time that PTSD has been included as an occupational disease by a Workers Compensation Board in Canada.