Can police peers prevent PTSD?

The DSM-IV-TR defines traumatic events (TE’s) as  “events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.” That’s a  fair description of  situations police officers might find themselves in every day. In Quebec, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) has found that police officers are less vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than previously thought. Per the IRSST, they’re actually no more likely to develop PTSD than any one else.

The American Medical Network reports:

“Providing police officers with interventional support shortly after and in the weeks following a TE improves the chances of preventing PTSD,” explained André Marchand, lead author of the study, researcher at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and Associate Professor at Université de Montréal’s.”

What is intriguing here is how much “interventional support” sounds  like Critical Incident Stress Management. With CISM,  emergency service personnel and accident victims meet mental-health professionals for information and support immediately after a traumatic event. It’s an intervention that seems logical, but can actually increase the risk of developing PTSD. So what’s the difference?

…  the police officers stated that talking to their colleagues, obtaining peer support and taking part in leisure activities are particularly helpful after a TE. “The police offers involved in this study even advise their colleagues who experience this kind of event to consult a psychologist and are themselves open to the idea of receiving psychological support if need be,” said Mélissa Martin, co-author and psychologist at the Trauma Study Centre at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital.

This is a tantalizing hint of two key differences:

  • support from friends and family, rather than a stranger with a psychology degree
  • choosing to meet with clinical staff, rather than being presented with them

The original study has not been translated into English. Man, I wish I spoke French.

@ 2011 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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