Who’s Looking after the Mental Health of our Police officers?

The Extent of the Problem 

Police Forces across the globe lose more officers to suicide than in the line of duty. Police officers are six times (or more) likely to suffer PTSD than the rest of us with 65,000 police officers in the UK taking sick leave for mental health in the last 5 years.  

A study by the Police Federation in 2016 found the mental well-being of police officers to be considerably poorer than the rest of us with 39% needing professional help.* If the trend continues, the crisis will reach systemic proportions.  

Causes  

High-risk frontline duty makes the force more prone to psychological illness like PTSD, depression, anxiety, stress, etc. Cumulative exposure to traumatic situations like physical assault, the gruesome sight of victims of sudden death, criminal car chases, traffic accidents, and socioeconomic factors like budget restrictions and low staffing increase mental pressures on our police force. Also contributing to mental illness are organisational stressors like crime rate, police culture and attitudes towards mental health difficulties in the force.  

Institutional Stigma preventing Officers from getting help 

There is a strong institutional negativity and stigma in the police force towards mental ill health. This prevents officers from getting help– they fear how their colleagues would react. 

Effects of PTSD in the force 

Recent studies have shown exposure to traumatic death alone increases introversion, avoidance, hostility and recurrent medical symptoms with no apparent cause (somatisation).* Police sufferers of PTSD who have long-term, symptoms tend to have a few hobbies, display acute hyperarousal, suffer from job dissatisfaction, brooding and problems with social integration. They have low morale, are absent from work, opt for early retirement and struggle with family functioning.  

We are talking here of occupational psychological distress affecting the strongest folk in our society.  These folk put themselves in harms way in order to maintain public peace. They do it for the rest of us. They do it at great expense to themselves. They would not be human if they did not respond strongly to the horrors they encounter.  

What is PTSD? 

When we endure persistent (or even one-off) traumatic events which we cannot intellectually process, our brain’s frontal lobe shuts down. It’s a physiological reaction affecting executive functioning. 

Compounded is the risk of developing psychological illness in a high-risk, hazardous, front line profession. The police brief is exacerbated by organisational stressors and characterised by cumulative exposure to traumatic situations. These are all predictors for the development of PTSD, depression, anxiety and other stress related conditions.   

The culture of dominance, masculinity and emphasis on emotional self-control coupled with the stigma of mental illness (yes, it still exists especially in male dominated professions) make officers resistant to seeking help 

Increased education and awareness surrounding mental health have been shown to be fundamental in how an officer reacts to stress, but change is needed at a managerial level. 

Spotting Symptoms 

Different individual responses include: 

Hyperarousal – Manifested hyperactivity, insomnia, lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, outbursts and panic. This is when our nervous system is in the fight or flight response state.  

Re-Experiencing – recurrent nightmares and flashbacks – reliving physical memories at the smallest (or no trigger). Nausea. Sweating. Exaggerated automatic responses to life experiences or physical stimuli.  

Avoidance – New studies in nervous system responses (The Polyvagal Theory) have pointed out a third response to danger (in addition to fight or flight) – Freeze. Primates would instinctively play dead to save themselves. We still do this. This response leads to depression, anxiety, hopelessness and social withdrawal. 

Low self-esteem, sound sensitivity, headaches, anger, difficulty concentrating, rumination, self-harm and addiction are also common responses seen in those suffering from PTSD. 

What you can do to help 

About seven or eight out of every 100 people (7-8%) will have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives making the understanding of PTSD statistics and facts very important. Considering this significant figure, it is likely that you, or someone you know, will suffer from PTSD at some point.  

Don’t ask brave folk to man-up. Flag up symptoms seen in family and friends and suggest they immediately get help using neurofeedback, talk therapies or a blend of different therapies to heal the trauma.  

Increased education and awareness surrounding mental health have been shown to be fundamental in how an officer reacts to stress, but change is needed at a managerial level. Call out systemic institutional negative attitudes towards mental health so management can change culture and attitudes by taking positive action which will saves lives in the long run.  

When we live in a community, as we do, the health of those who protect us ought to be the responsibility of all. When we demand our rights, we must acknowledge our responsibilities. 

Neurofeedback for Healing Minds 

In 1990 there was a cohort of Vietnam veterans who had suffered years of recurrent nightmares and flashbacks resorting to drugs and alcohol to cope. A study with a specific form of Neurofeedback therapyAlpha Theta training was first brought to clinical practice by Eugene Peniston to help them.  

The therapy (then) saw a significantly greater improvement in the mental health issues and a lower relapse rate with substance abuse than with talk therapy alone. Fast forward thirty years, we have a whole arsenal of powerful neurofeedback technologies to train the brain to sub-consciously resolve traumatic memories. Studies show a decline in severity of symptoms of over 50% within 20 sessions of therapy. The habits and fears that trigger uncomfortable feelings and behaviours are negated. We are able to safely process traumatic memories while in a deeply relaxed state. 

What is Neurofeedback therapy? 

Neurofeedback is a breakthrough in mental health remediation.  

It is non- invasive, drug-free and a very comfortable experience. The Brain Collective uses a range of neurofeedback technologies to train or retrain people’s brains to naturally, instinctively, and confidently, self-regulate their emotional state for peak mental health.  

Who we help 

Each neurofeedback protocol is tailored specifically for you and therefore we help people on the entire spectrum of mental health conditions from those suffering mild stress to those with have diagnoses of life-inhibiting mental health disorders. We have successfully helped clients free themselves of Anxiety, Stress, ADHD and PTSD, Stroke, Tourette’s syndrome and a variety of other conditions. 

How it works 

It involves the use of EEG technologies delivered via electrodes. The electrodes are attached to a computer and the computer controls the TV screen the client is watching. The computer provides feedback both to clinician and client. By controlling the clients screen, the program is able to reduce audio and visual feedback to the client, instinctively and effortlessly encouraging the client to produce the healthy brain waves for optimum mental health. 

Help for All 

We are looking to start a charitable foundation to help soldiers, emergency service professionals, the NHS and Social Care with affordable or free neurofeedback therapy – specifically those who may not be able access this help privately. If you wish to be a part of this journey, please contact us. 

Get Help Now 

We are currently only able to offer neurofeedback therapy in private practice. To learn more, read up on or telephone us to book a free consultation. 

We work best with clients who can conveniently commute to and from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on the same day. To learn more about Neurofeedback therapy, explore Neurofeedback and Your Journey with Us to discover how we help you or a loved one, write to us at harrogate@thebraincollective.co.uk or book a free telephone consultation on 01423 565522. 

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