PTSD: The Silent Killer of Cops
I am not distant to the thought of PTSD and neither is my father, a retired New York City police officer who watched American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower. With the current events happening in real time in our country, I feel that it is important to examine and realize that police officers suffer PTSD almost daily.
Police officers carry out some of the most difficult jobs in our country. However, this is no excuse for the blatant misconduct and murder against innocent citizens of our country. Still, we need to analyze how mental illness affects job performance and off duty life.
Shockingly, the National Police Support Fund reports that between 7 and 19 percent of police officers will suffer from PTSD; a statistic that is similar to those of veterans. While the rates of PTSD are high in those categories, only 3.5% of the public is known to suffer from PTSD. There are five types of PTSD that people under which people can be categorized . Police officers generally suffer from cumulative PTSD which is defined as “prolonged and repeated exposure to trauma and extreme stress rather than one particular incident, such as a shooting” according to the National Police Support Fund.
There are more problems than just mental health issues that have stemmed from police officers not receiving adequate help from what they witness. The statistics according to a Pew Research article from 2017, “about one-in-five police officers, nationally (21%) say their job nearly always or often makes them feel angry and frustrated”. I am unsure of the statistics involving police officers that obtain therapy outside of their organization or jobs; however, we still must take into consideration the stigma that follows receiving therapy as a police officer, and as a man.
There have been reports of police officers’ homes being linked to increased cases of domestic violence towards their families. According to a study noted in KUTV, by National Center for Women and Policing done in the 1990s, “two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence”. Whether this number has changed since these two studies is unknown.
My father was always an aggressive person and I don’t want to say it correlates to his PTSD, but it very well could be related. Those from New York know that rush hour starts at 2 pm and ends at 8 pm, meaning there is no great time to travel in the city. I remember travelling in the car with him during rush hour during rush hour, and if we hit traffic (which was inevitable), he would repeatedly punch the roof of his car and hit the steering wheel. As a young kid, I was under the impression that all adults did this; they were frustrated. However, as I got older, I realized it was his anger seeping through in any way it could.
My father was a first responder for 9/11; however, he also aided in the clean-up that lasted until March of 2002. What my father experienced was traumatic, and he has severe survivors’ guilt 19 years later. My parents split a couple years post-9/11 because my mom said, “he left one person, and came home another” – “he wasn’t the person I married”. Inevitably,, it led to the downfall of his relationship with his daughters. He stayed in New York with his new family, and my sister and I moved to Pennsylvania with our mother. We would rarely see him, but when we did, it was always an encounter filled with anger and aggression. If we were walking in a parking lot “wrong”, he would pinch the backs of our necks with his fingers to steer us in the “right” direction. My father wasn’t abusive per se, he was angry. Unfortunately, he chose to take that anger out on his family.
My father had the chance to make his life right, to get help, and he decided against it. It’s the unfortunate life that a lot of police families face, then and now. My experience has ceased to exist because I don’t have a relationship with my father. He left when I was nine years old and, frankly,, never looked back. Everything happens for a reason, and that’s what I choose to think about. However, a lot of families are still suffering and still hurt over their loved ones’ refusals to get help.
My father, unlike others who have experienced PTSD, let it eat him alive. It eventually destroyed his relationship with his family, but the important takeaway is that he didn’t get help afterwards. He took these experiences, and this hatred he carried with him to work, until he retired in 2017.
To the extent of my knowledge, my father carried an extreme hatred for Muslim peoples post 9/11. I did not grow up with my father in the household, but when we spoke on the phone, he would speak ill of people of the Islamic faith. I was born about a month after 9/11, and as I mentioned previously, my father and his colleagues refused help from a therapist or a “shrink” as they called him post-9/11. My father came home about 16 hours after the initial attacks and told my 8-month pregnant mother that he should not have come home, and he should have died.
I have lived with PTSD and in the initial days, I couldn’t exactly function as normal, let alone be able to work 12 hour shifts in the bustling NYC. The things my father witnessed on 9/11 still haunt him today, and he refuses treatment. He is a third generation New York City police officer, and combined with being a male, there is a whole lot of stigma behind receiving therapy or help with mental issues.
However you choose to feel about police officers is your own. The goal of this article was to bring some light to some major statistics, and to show that there are real issues that plague our justice systems.