According to the Department of Justice, “an estimated 15 percent of Law Enforcement officers suffer from PTSD” and those are just the percent of Law Enforcement professionals who are willing to come forward or seek help. This number is expected to skyrocket as both society and Law Enforcement becomes more willing to accept PTSD and disregard the stigma associated with being diagnosed with the disorder.
It is estimated that the average police officer in his or her career will be involved or witness over 850 critical incidents compared to that of the general public who will have an average of less than 5. According to the DSM-V, a critical incident is defined as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious, or sexual violence.” First Responders may directly experience the traumatic event, witness (in person) the event as it occurred to others, or experience repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event.
For decades, First Responders have attempted to deal with the effects of PTSD by turning to drugs and alcohol to help suppress nightmares, unwanted thoughts and other emotional problems. This, in turn, has caused many First Responders to develop substance use disorders. The American Addiction Center reports an alarming 23% of police officers struggle with alcoholism. Again, these figures are limited to those who are willing to acknowledge a substance abuse disorder exists and seek help.
According to Blue H.E.L.P. (an organization committed to helping families who lost an officer to suicide), 919 police officers lost their lives to suicide between 2016-2020. As of January 16, 2021, Blue H.E.L.P. has already reported two officer suicides for the 2021 calendar year. 133 fire personnel lost their lives to suicide in 2019 alone.
In 2019, the Minnesota Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) noted police and fire applications for Duty Disability benefits on the basis of a PTSD injury accounted for approximately 71% of all applications submitted. This number was up significantly from 2018, where approximately 42% of the disability applications were submitted alleging PTSD as a disabling condition. These numbers are expected to rise in 2020, when an unprecedented number of applications were filed for duty disability benefits for PTSD injuries. Most employers have failed to provide or seek adequate mental health treatment for its employees. Continued failure to address the fact PTSD is plaguing First Responders will result in continued mental health problems, a decline in First Responder personnel, and rampant First Responder suicide. These are costs that we can no longer continue to bear.