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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a common mental health disorder experienced by people in many different careers, including those in law enforcement. The symptoms may be mild or they may be severe enough to interfere with a person's life. There are many symptoms of PTSD in law enforcement officers, many of which are forms of avoidance, arousal, or the re-experiencing of stressful events. Law enforcement officers who suspect they have PTSD should seek the assistance of medical professionals so that the condition can be properly identified and treated.
Many symptoms of PTSD in law enforcement officers deal with avoidance. Officers may go out of their way to avoid people, places, or thoughts that bring up memories of the event that triggered the traumatic stress. This avoidance may not be conscious and may appear as taking a dislike to a person or activity that was previously enjoyed. It is also possible for officers to withdraw from close relationships with any or all of the people in their lives. Additionally, officers may genuinely forget the details of what happened, and may even, in extreme cases, completely forget that it happened at all, even when prompted.
The opposite symptom, re-living the event, can also happen with PTSD in law enforcement officers. The most frequent symptom of re-living a stressful event is dreaming about it. Memories of the event may also preoccupy an officer's thoughts, or, in some cases, lead to flashbacks in which the officer begins to relive the experience while fully awake. Flashbacks can be brought on by experiencing similar events or they can come on suddenly and without warning. Non-specific feelings of dread or fear can also be experienced.
A state of intense arousal is another possible symptom of PTSD in law enforcement officers. Officers may be on edge and jumpy or they may be unusually quick to anger due to an excess of adrenaline in the system. Remaining in this over-stimulated state for long can lead to serious health complications, including lack of sleep, high blood pressure, and digestive difficulties.
In many cases it may be difficult for officers to recognize the symptoms of PTSD in themselves. The symptoms are usually first noticed by coworkers or family members and may be denied or dismissed by an officer with PTSD. A diagnosis by a trained medical professional, usually a psychiatrist, is essential.