13th March 2021

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in policing is very real and can be very debilitating for the sufferer. Unfortunately, it can also be the catalyst for Police to seek, the permanent solution in extreme cases. Some of the PTSD perceptions, particularly from a historical perspective, are nothing short of mythical.

What concerns the CAA most is that these myths may well influence the management strategies used to assist people living with PTSD.

We propose to publish a series on this subject to further understand the  PTSD issue aimed at developing prevention strategies as the primary focus and trying to unravel the conundrum as to why some Police suffer PTSD, and others do not when exposed to similar Trauma.

We do not question current clinical approaches or do we challenge those diagnosed, but our contribution is from the CAA members’ lived life experiences with over four hundred years of Policing experience that may just help current and future police members and management to deal with Trauma and avoid the disorder.

During the past fifty years of Policing in this State, there have been other significant epidemics afflicting Police, particularly the ‘Stress’ era (which may have been PTSD), where the exit strategy for disenfranchised members was the medical conditions diagnosed as ‘Stress’. That process seemed to be used far too frequently by members seeking to avoid accountability and, on the other side, becoming a personnel management tool, Judicial Personnel Management (JPM).

There seemed to be a tapering off, of the numbers using this conduit after management changes at the Welfare Branch. However, we were then faced with a new contagion, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). There is no doubt that many Police also suffered from this debilitating and very painful injury that was generally blamed on typing.

Ironically, today’s Police spend far more time on a keyboard than in times past without evidence of large numbers of RSI sufferers, or perhaps the culprit was the old Royal manual typewriters. Still, thankfully that suffering seems to have dissipated.

Could you imagine the outrage today should a Police member be diagnosed with RSI and told not to use a keyboard for a month? In time past, the impact enabled the member to avoid processing correspondence and compiling briefs and the like. But today, that sort of ban would precipitate a dramatic reaction as not only the member’s professional function would be impacted, but the social impact may well be intolerable. Perhaps that has been the cure?

We are not suggesting the similarities of PTSD and RSI are parallels from a medical perspective, just that RSI also seemed to develop like an epidemic, but of course, neither RSI and PTSD are contagious. Perhaps, it is just that a name can be placed on a problem afflicting an individual. However, the worry is that the term is used as a ‘catch all’ label masking other issues because all Police are exposed to Trauma.

But to the myth. It is typically portrayed that historically Police dealt with Trauma by heading to the Police Club to have a ‘session’, euphemistically referred to as a ‘De-Brief’. This is where the Trauma was supposedly aired; along with the merits or otherwise of the more senior Police and the footy, with copious quantities of beer often feeding bragging rights of the drinker’s capacity together with the quantity of steamed ‘Dim Sims’ they could devour.

Getting drunk and going home, to ‘belt the missus’, was the alleged coping mechanism.

That generalisation is totally out of proportion to what really happened.

Yes, there were rumours of incidents of that nature described, but they were confined to very few. When one looks at who supposedly did it, they were usually made up of alcoholics (looking for their next excuse and a rational to drink) or police hangers-on trying to fit into the aura of the “Heavy Squads”.

The reality was that this aura was often perpetuated by the least competent to mask their professional inadequacies. They were usually good as a blowhard relating (and feeding the myth) on their feats at the booze-up, but not really good at their day job.

As far as alcoholism in Policing, it may not have been any more prevalent than in society in general, particularly in the post six o’clock closing era.

The reputations of these squads were often more important to some Police working in them or aspiring to work in them than any altruistic goals for that type of policing that most Police in the squads held.

The majority of Police who took on this work were very competent, capable and dedicated. After experiencing the harrowing Trauma of a ‘job’; when they knocked off, they were more interested in going home and catching up on lost sleep after ‘an early morning’ Often up since three am for a four or five am raid, than chewing the fat for hours; talking drunken drivel was the last thing on their mind.

This was precisely the same for most operational Police as they all were exposed, from time to time to significant Trauma; it is and always will be part and parcel of the job.

It is as blunt as, if you want to avoid Trauma as a police officer in your career, get another job because it is unavoidable.

That groups from these squads did go out as a group socially from time to time, just as many workplace teams or groups, not only Police, morphed into this myth. Anyone who has experience with a Football Club would see more of this behaviour than the Police squads.

Unfortunately, and not in the best interest of Police members and veterans, PTSD has spawned an industry, and that is self perpetuating. Most behavioural or psychological hiccups in life are then blamed on PTSD.

Seemingly missed, in a rush to treat or manage, is the effort to prevent. Providing coping mechanisms for members and veterans and establishing a clear priority for having people with PTSD return to duty.

When the spectre of returning to work, when able the same as any other illness is accepted, the number of cases will likely decline.

However, it is beyond belief that the most obvious place to look for solutions and mechanisms has apparently been completely overlooked -all the thousands of retired police members who have completed their career without PTSD.

The psychological profile and other measuring mechanisms would identify what makes a police member, which would then become the focus of recruiting in the first place, then diagnosing and managing PTSD.

You can rest assured that all Police are exposed to Trauma. Most of it not spectacular but nevertheless horrific, and evaluating members who have served 20 plus years and decide to retire would be where the solution to the PTSD epidemic lay.