PTSD Trauma, as Bad as It Gets
By Steve Glenn, MS, Counseling Psychology and MSc, Administration
Don’t you sometimes marvel at your ability to become focused and helpful in times of extreme trauma? After the initial impact, we focused on the needs of others and only repressed the traumatic elements of some difficult situation.
This happened to a friend of mine. Even now, fifteen years later, he still tears up when he recalls the moment he held an eight-year-old child in his arms while the child died. All of his senses were on high alert. He could smell the burned rubber and the blood; he could hear the cries of the victims and the responders as they took control of the scene. He could see the anguish on the faces of people who had gathered from nearby homes. He could even taste the chemicals from hoses and gas tanks. And sadly, he could feel the life going out of the little boy he had helped remove from one of the cars and whose body he now supported. The incident had been a major 10-50 (accident), and the mother of the little boy died instantly. The child looked at my friend and asked, “Is my momma okay?” My friend remembers smiling through his tears and saying, “She’s going to be fine.” The brave little boy smiled, closed his eyes, and joined his momma.
Even when the trauma doesn’t happen to us personally, we can still suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Now friends, that’s trauma. What followed was grief. Even when the trauma doesn’t happen to us personally, we can still suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By definition PTSD is “a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Many individuals—military personnel, first responders, and many trusted others—are dealing with one level or another of PTSD.
Senior Adult Senior Men Depression Sadness Men Old Alzheimer’s Disease[/caption]Senior Adult Senior Men Depression Sadness Men Old Alzheimer’s Disease[/caption]Can people really experience so much trauma that they develop a serious disorder that can manifest itself as totally unacceptable, or even tragic, behavior? Are they a danger to themselves or to others? Are more and more people displaying PTSD? The answer to these questions is, unfortunately, yes.
In my research, I have found sad-but-true instances in which people have been hurting and have asked for help only to be told that their situations are “just part of the job” or that they will “eventually be able to handle things better as their time in service increases.” Some people have been referred to a “peer counselor” or even a company “shrink.” However, the peer counselors are well-meaning but inexperienced or the recommended psychologists are overbooked or not trusted. Many people simply don’t know to whom to turn.
I believe there has been an increase in the number of citizens with PTSD. Let me share a couple of true cases that I have personally investigated. Although these examples involve law enforcement officers, individuals who work in private companies and government agencies can also show the effects of PTSD.
Tom, a police officer just back from his second tour in the Middle East, was driving on patrol at approximately 2 p.m. Most officers will spend their shift answering calls from dispatch or from their EDT (the computer in their car). On days when our officer Tom isn’t busy answering calls, he expands his service by performing self-initiated activity—things like checking parking lots for vehicles reported stolen or having been used in crime.
Officer Tom decided to check the doors of many of the businesses that were closed for the day in his area of responsibility. He locked his unit and began walking from door to door. At that time Tom was in a good mood, happy to be providing a service he can’t offer regularly.
A mother and her seven-year-old son were walking along the sidewalk, and the little boy said, “Look Mom, a policeman.” Mother replied, “Why you don’t go shake his hand; policemen are our friends.”
The officer saw the child approaching, and something in his memory clicked back to the horror of war. He saw the approaching child as a Middle Eastern child with explosives strapped around his waist. As the officer watched through his memory (PTSD), he saw the child explode. The officer reacted in horror and began screaming and backing away from the child. The little boy ran back to his mother understandably upset. The mother reported the incident immediately and a police supervisor was dispatched to take care of the officer and calm the citizens. The officer was removed from service until he was cleared by the department psychologist.
An officer from another police department came up to me at a training session I was holding for his department. He asked me if I was taking on any new counseling clients. I never know how to say no, so I agreed to see him after his shift the following week. I wasn’t going to be in his area very often; however, I would listen and make a referral if I felt he needed to continue to see a professional. I have done this for people in other occupations, especially first responders and school employees.
This officer was having trouble staying focused while on the job. His mind drifted even while he was investigating complaints. During the course of our conversation he told me he was beginning to worry about roadside explosives while on patrol. In fact, there were certain streets he avoided altogether. He knew this wasn’t realistic and that he was reliving his tour in Iraq, but he could not stop thinking about this even though he was back in the States. He was having more and more difficulty treating the public with kindness, and he was beginning to withdraw from his own family. He frequently referred to his police squad as his unit.
Our citizen soldiers were not raised in a country that uses its children in battle. Our brains are accustomed to a more civilized society. The word propriety is rapidly disappearing from our vocabulary, and that is a tragedy. Many, many wonderful things can be said about this amazing country of ours. However, we are seeing a disturbing development in America and its people.
Give some thought to how many men and women are serving in the military or have lived through tragedy of one kind or another. Who helps them deal with the PTSD? In fact, the victim may not even be willing to admit they are suffering from this emotional dilemma.
Do you recognize yourself in the above stories, or do you know others who seem to have similar problems? What is your department or company doing to help those employees who are returning from the Middle East? As one investigates this problem, he will find others with PTSD. What can be done to help people who suffer from this disorder and what can you do if your organization isn’t being realistic in dealing with this situation?
Check to find out if your company has an Employee Assistance Program or department shrink. Treatment could allow people to stay on task, work safer, use fewer sick days, and become more productive, making the treatment cost effective beyond your wildest dreams.
More Later. Be safe and reach out to others.