Post-traumatic stress disorder in the police force

The recent UNE seminar is not the first time academics have examined the serious problem of post-traumatic stress disorder in our emergency services.

Known by the acronym PTSD, the condition has long affected our police who confront terrible scenes in the duty. But it is not just confined to police officers, with all emergency services officers, as well as those in the armed forces, susceptible.

According to mental health organisation, beyondblue, about 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime. Serious accidents are one of the leading causes in Australia.

Research shows our emergency services face a greater risk of developing trauma-related mental illness compared to the general public. Between 2000 and 2012, 110 Australian police officers, paramedics and firefighters took their own lives.

The exacerbating problem in emergency services, such as the police force, has been the situation where officers have been isolated, shunned, and left without meaningful assistance after suffering psychological injuries while on duty.

In 2011, University of NSW Scientia Professor Richard Bryant said PTSD had been around forever, however, police forces all over the world had never successfully addressed the problem.

He had been leading a team of Australian researchers that had spent three years studying treatment methods for police officers suffering PTSD in an effort to help a profession that was hurting.

Professor Bryant said the treatment of police officers with PTSD presented its own set of unique challenges due to the nature of their jobs. Not only were they exposed to traumatic events as part of their daily working life but the exposure was ongoing. He said the symptoms of PTSD were further exacerbated by organisational constraints of the police force, including shift and undercover work.

Increasing the numbers in out police force and other emergency services is a promise we often hear from our politicians. But we also need to have a strong focus on doing our best to keep those we already have serving.

PTSD should not be a condition that sees people treated badly at work. That is when they need all the support their colleagues, their superiors, and our society, can provide.

  • For help or information, call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.