Recently appointed NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has made a grand statement in respects to his new 'mental resilience' plan to curb officer PTSD numbers via new police recruits. This approach opens up more questions than answers. Most importantly, how does one assess resilience?
Policing is an extremely difficult career where a student officer joins with a hope to make a difference; to serve the community; and guard with all their might the 'thin blue line'. Unfortunately, guarding the string-like blue line day in day out under tremendous fight or flight conditions causes stress. The stress is continuous and unrelenting with survival mode clicked on and ready for action. This survival mode, whilst it plays an important risk and safety measure for survival, and to ward off danger, can be exhausting and cause constant hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance. It simply does not turn off because the uniform is hanging up.
Most, if not all police will tell you when off duty they need to sit facing the door when at a restaurant or other indoor establishment. Why? Because they need to scan and assess the zone, hyper-vigilantly checking for danger. They are still in survival mode using all their senses. They know what society looks like in all negative aspects. They are a cop 24/7.
As a society we all want to feel safe and the vast majority of us do. If we are caught up in a compromising life or death situation this may change us, and a hyper-vigilant person can be born. Avoidance, living on guard and constant anxiety may formulate. In most part this will subside and if the right help is provided, recovery would be highly achievable. But, what if you are exacted to life and death or serious harm situations constantly? How about, every day you go to work for instance. It is only natural this constant scanning for threats and being in alert mode will have some psychological impact. This is an aspect of PTSD. PTSD can affect a person at various levels. Mildly, moderately or severely. Consequently, and most sadly if severe PTSD is not treated and is complex (many traumatic experiences) an officer can lose their life.
Police, other emergency services and the military are resilient by their employment circumstance. They have to be! They would not last a week on the coal face if they were not. They are human beings, but by their employment hand are forced to become 'teflon' men and women. They wear an internal shield to desensitize and remove themselves emotionally from any situation. Let's just say this is another form of survival. Involving yourself emotionally in another's demise is a no-go zone in the Police, but hardly human by nature. Unfortunately what has been seen, heard or smelt cannot be reversed and inevitably this gets stored in the mental library. The library can only stack so many books.
So, my high level interest is how Commissioner Fuller is going to determine who cuts it and who doesn't? Resilience wise.
A person wanting to join the police may tick all the boxes but, is then resilience checked. It is found, for example, they suffered childhood trauma or were a victim of a serious traumatic crime prior. They don't have a criminal record or any other problematic history. They achieved respectable school grades and want to make a difference. Is this person right for the job? On one hand they have shown they are extremely resilient and have overcome their prior trauma without blemish. They must be steely and resilient galore! On the other hand? Well, science tells us once a person is traumatized they are more susceptible to future trauma. Then we may have an applicant who has lived a trauma free existence. Will they have the fortitude to be PTSD impermeable? What do we do? Hire or fire Commissioner Fuller?
I believe a recruitment resilience check is not a bad thing, why not. It may actually help to identify individuals in the services or military who may need help down the track. But this alone is leaving the onus on the officer afterwards and just reinforces the no empathy, emotion go-zone. The officer has the pressure on them to remain mentally resilient. In turn this will instil the sure enough, 'don't put your hand up until the cup runneth over' situation which, in most cases is too late. It also does not change the stigma within officer ranks that seeking help is 'career and promotion suicide'. Police, other emergency services and military personnel are not emotionless robots! They are being forced by their employer to be non-human like.
The 'Mental Resilience Check-up' should be an on-going early intervention strategy that is used throughout an officer’s career. Every 3 months an officer mandatorily completes the check-up so they can be looked after as early as possible. Not only would this save lives but keep good experienced men and women in the front line. The expense of training and putting tax payer’s money into a highly skilled human asset would also be saved. Experienced emergency services and military are our most crucial asset to keep our lives safe. They pass on their invaluable expertise to the new.
A quarterly 'Mental Resilience Check-up' for all officers allows for both the government, and the officer to be accountable. To perform this check on potential recruits solely is the government’s way to pass the buck and not address the big grey PTSD elephant in the room.
Over to you Commissioner Fuller?