Thesis: PTSD the Nature of Police Work Increases

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PTSD

The nature of police work increases the probability of developing Posttraumatic Stress disorder

Police Work

The nature of police work increases the probability of developing Posttraumatic Stress disorder (PTSD)

There is a general consensus that there are a very high number of police officers that suffer from PTSD, which has a decidedly negative impact on the individual and the functioning of the police force. As one study notes; "All too many police officers are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (Police and PTSD, 2005, para.1). Post traumatic stress disorder is understood as a response to traumatic stress, such as having to kill someone in the line of duty.

Another area of concern that emerges from the literature is that there is a relative paucity of research and data on this serious issue. As one study notes, "Studies of police officers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are relatively rare" (Green, 2004, p.1). The present study is intended as a contribution towards filling this gap in research.

There has been an emphasis in the literature on the relationship between PTSD and military personnel. However, as the definition and understanding of post traumatic stress disorder becomes more inclusive and wide-ranging, other sectors of society are being analyzed, and there is an increasing interest in groups that are prone to high levels of stress and trauma. This includes fire-fighters and the police. Studies have found that there is a PTSD prevalence rate of more than thirteen percent among police officer in some instances (Green, 2004, p.1). This is a matter of concern as it relates to issues such as low morale, absenteeism and poor functionality (Green, 2004, p.1).

This study is intended to make a contribution to the debate and investigation of post traumatic stress disorder among the police. It will provide an overview of the development of the diagnostic definition of post traumatic stress disorder and the way that this disorder affects and impacts the police officer. The central question that will be investigated will focus on the reasons why police officers are so prone to this disorder.

2. Thesis Statement

The central thesis that will be explored in present study is as follows: the nature of police work increases the probability of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This refers to the daily experiences and life context of the police officer and how this context increases the probability of developing post traumatic stress disorder.

In investigating this central assertion a number of variables and factors have to be considered. One aspect that is discussed in the process of developing this thesis is the affect that post traumatic stress disorder has on the police officer. There are also a number of contributing factors that will be considered; for example, the fact that police officers experience stress and trauma over very long periods of time. Another aspect that has a bearing on this thesis is that there is often a severe discontinuity between the life experiences of the police officer during his working day and his normal social and family life. There is also the view to consider that post traumatic stress disorder affects relationships with others, which in turn increases the negative symptoms and outcomes of this disorder. These aspects can be seen to increase the propensity for post traumatic stress disorder in this group.

3. Research Methods

The research methodology of this study is focused mainly on research and analysis of the available literature on the topic. This included extensive research not only of the subject of post-traumatic stress disorder as it directly affects the police officer, but also took into account the more general literature on post-traumatic stress disorder that surrounds and indirectly impacts this issue. The intention was to provide as broad a view as possible in order to understand the way that post-traumatic stress disorder affects the police force.

To this end material and data for various sources were accessed. This included books, journals, reports as well as valid online databases. A number of Government and official sites were also found to be extremely useful in accumulating data and this subject. While a certain discretion must be exercised in using online sources, it was found that the Internet provided a valid and valuable means of accessing the latest and most up-to-date data on the subject. Online databases such as Questia and Highbeam were found to be a valuable source of information on this topic.

The process in the research process was basically as follows. Books, journals and magazines, as well as online and electronic sources, were scoured for information and data on post-traumatic stress disorder. This data was entered into as database for reference. A search was also undertaken for more specific studies, reports and commentaries on the relationship between police work and post-traumatic stress disorder. This was also entered into a database and the data was sorted according to the central hypothesis of this study. This provided the background and source material for the present discussion.

4. PTSD and the Police

4.1. Background: Overview of PTSD

In order to provide a comprehensive response to the central thesis of the present study it is essential to firstly establish the definition and meaning of post traumatic stress disorder in both a diagnostic as well as experiential sense. PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder has become an accepted medical condition since its inclusion as a diagnostic category in the third edition (1980) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (Williams and Sommer, 1994, p.3). This was not always the case and post traumatic stress disorder was previously not recognized as an integrated and cohesive medical condition. The official medical recognition and categorization of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a fairly recent event. It was first introduced with the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). This has increased the awareness and the formalization of the disorder. "…as a formal disorder, critical issues such as predictors of failure to recover from a trauma and the development and evaluation of effective treatments have just begun to be addressed in research using rigorous methodology" (Foa & Meadows, 1997, p.449).

A basic definition of PTSD is a "… mental health issue among many different cross-sections of society" (Martz, Birks & Blackwell, 2005, p.56). A fundamental description of this condition is; "… an individual's exposure to one or more events that involve death, threat to life or limb, or serious injury and a cluster of psychological responses to the memories of those events, consisting of intrusive, avoidant, and hyperarousal symptoms" (Martz, Birks & Blackwell, 2005, p.56). A similar definition is: " Post-traumatic stress disorder & #8230;is an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event" (Coping With a Traumatic Event). It is also important to note that post-traumatic stress disorder has also been linked to patient with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, as well as substance abuse.

There are more comprehensive and inclusive definitions. The following definition for example includes PTSD as it related to various personality types.

Exposure to extremely traumatic events -- including situations where one witnesses death or serious injury to somebody else, or where someone is in fear for their own life -- is actually fairly common. Many people get through these events without many residual effects. But some people who have such an experience later go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. They can either develop it immediately after the event, or in some cases they may develop it months or years after the event occurred. (Haran C. 2010)

The symptoms of PTSD are usually classified in terms of different types. This refers to symptoms of re-living traumatic experiences, which includes flashbacks and "…extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event" (Coping With a Traumatic Event ) There are also symptoms of avoidance as well as symptoms of increased arousal which refers to irritability or outbursts of anger, and lack of concentration.

In the DSM-III formulation of this disorder a traumatic event is viewed as, "…a catastrophic stressor that was outside the range of usual human experience" (Friedman, 2007, para. 3). PTSD was initially conceptualized in terms of war, rape and extreme event such as nuclear holocausts; as well as in reference to devastating natural disasters such as earthquakes. In other words this initial formulation of PTSD and trauma was seen in the context of extreme events that were seen "…to be clearly different from the very painful stressors that constitute the normal vicissitudes of life such as divorce, failure, rejection, serious illness, financial reverses, and the like" (Friedman., 2007, para. 3).

For the purposes of this study and the focus on the police force, it is important to note that the diagnostic view of PTSD was altered with the revision of the DSM-III diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and in the formulation of the DSM-IV (1994), and DSM-IV-TR (2000), a number of new… [END OF PREVIEW]

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