Categories
Trauma Support SA Projects

SA Police- is the thin blue line cracking?


Anthony Robertson (Tracking & Recovery)I’ve been a reservist for just over five years, before that I worked as a chaplain and met lots of great police officers, some of whom became friends. I experienced the joy of a successful arrest, the frustration of an unsuccessful chase, the irritation of “hurry up and wait” and the insult of an unforgiving, ungrateful public. I’ve felt deep grief at the death of a “Friend in Uniform” , given up on bad planning, boring ops, egotistical officers,’slapgat officers’, and endured the long night shift where nothing happens. I’ve laughed with my crew, laughed at my crew and laughed at other crews. I’ve been shocked, horrified, a little scared, my heart has raced, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made some real good calls.I’ve recognized how wearing the uniform has changed me, affected me and matured me: but I’ve worn the uniform with pride. I’ve also recognized how lucky I’ve been. Lucky to be a part of that camaraderie” that only those who’ve been a part of can know.Most importantly, I’m lucky I’m still alive.

aaaaaaaOthers are not so lucky. Some have died on duty in a hail of bullets ( excuse the cliché) Others have died at their own hands. Some have taken the lives of others and then their own life. Many officers, although living, just go through the motions of working. For them, the flame that once burned so powerfully, is now a flicker. Officers have turned to corruption, to crime, to drink to drugs and to whatever addiction they can get their hands on.But most, if not all started out wanting to be a police officer: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE!

So, what went wrong? Who can we blame?

Do we blame the history and legacy of apartheid? Do we blame society, the government or the police management, or do we blame ourselves?

The challenges faced by police officers are universal. Every country faces corruption in their police force, there are deaths, suicides and maladaptive ways of coping with the stress of being an officer.

IMG00185-20110218-1246 However, in South Africa these numbers are much higher! The crime is more violent and more concentrated, corruption is greater, our officers are bigger targets for cowardly criminals and the risk our officers face both physically, emotionally and psychologically is much greater.

Our officers are underpaid, under-resourced, unappreciated and at times badly managed. Although there are “systems” in place to manage stress and the effects of trauma, the stigma attached to counselling and psyche services is great, and some do question the abilities, competency and confidentiality of such counselling.

Yes, standing orders exist to ensure that police officers receive counselling after an incident.But I remember the saying “ You can take a horse to the water, but you cant force him to drink”

So lets be brutally honest here, there is a serious problem with the stress levels of our police officers in SA.

The South African Police Force is complex. The SAP faces a mammoth task of tackling crime, our communities expect and demand it, government and opposition parties demand it and of course, the SAP management demands it of their officers. Perhaps in our expectations, therein lies the problem, and the solution may not be what we expect.

I have always believed that one needs to examine the entire problem to find a solution, and for such a complex problem it is impossible that there should be a single solution.

If we want to tackle crime effectively, we need to ensure that our officers are well motivated, well paid, well resourced and well trained. Logical,yes. But motivation and good management and better resources does not necessarily mean the Hoorah, go get em’ boys, better faster cars and a higher salary type of solution, although that would be nice for many I’m sure.

sap5images

Remember the comment about complexity and no single solution?

A lasting solution or improvement would mean a long term strategy to examine the various issues that need adjustment.I could list numerous examples, such as an improvement to the members medical aid for psychological services, so that officers can afford to see a counsellor of their own choice, housing and education allowances, allowances for danger pay, better career advancement opportunities regardless of gender or race, on-going management training for  ranking officers ( perhaps lessons in people skills too- police are people you know!) and of course better marketing or training about the need for self care, stress management and the need to talk about the effects of traumatic stress.

A strategy needs to be drafted to more effectively manage the psycho-social needs of our officers now and it needs to come from the highest level and it needs to happen now. I am quite certain that there are a number of adjustments that need to be made. Part of the adjustment also needs to be made in the expectations of our society and communities and a realisation that when we judge or criticize our police officers, we are in essence judging our own. The men and women that make up our police force are a reflection of South African society,and for change to happen in the SAP, change needs to take place in South Africa and in us as South Africans.

Philip Stoneman

_Dr.Phil_    Philip Stoneman 0732703375 BN SAP.

Categories
Trauma Support SA Projects

BE A HERO AND TALK


     

  The journey to recovery- Invisible Hero’s *

 

* ( The term :Invisible Heroes, came from the book ‘Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal – BELLERUTH NAPARSTEK)

We recognize a hero as being someone who does something brave and courageous. For example a fireman who dashes into a fire to save a child, or a police officer who even under fire fights back, or even a member of the community who dives into a lake to save someone from drowning. But we never conceive that a survivor of violence or abuse could be a hero. Consider the victim of a smash and grab or hijacking who stands in the queue at the pick ‘n pay or department home affairs to fetch her ID book. Or the victim of a hostage situation who goes to the PTA meeting although her heart is pounding, her mouth is dry; her hands sweating, or the survivor of abuse at the hands of a parent who now has to go and speak to his boss. Perhaps we could call these people invisible heroes: survivors who struggle to make sense of the trauma they have faced, who struggles to understand the symptoms and reactions to the invisible triggers around them. Physiological reactions, emotional reactions and even psychological reactions to smell, sight, sound and touch around them.

Understanding these reactions is half the battle. Understanding how our body works and reacts to senses and trauma assists us in managing these reactions and enables us to move forward and to move on with our lives.

When we experience a traumatic event, our body reacts in a certain manner. When we are faced with danger, for example and to put it simply our body releases certain quick charging chemicals that enable us to face this danger, such as adrenaline. This is known as the fight or flight response, a process whereby as adrenaline is released in our body in response to this danger. A person may respond by fighting back or fleeing the danger or may even freeze. Internally, as our body responds our sense become more sensitive to our environment, our heart rate increases pumping more blood to important muscle groups, pumping blood and oxygen to our brains to process incoming information faster. Our lungs expand, our breathing becomes faster, glucose is converted into energy and so we respond.

Of course, after the danger has passed, and our body no longer has to produce adrenaline in response, we may be left feeling exhausted and fatigued. A sort of sugar low. And those of you who have experienced a sugar low know how that may feel…. Nausea, shivering (blood has been moved to other parts of the body away from skin- remember blood is warm.) so before you even start processing what has happened emotionally, you may not feel ok, and this is just because of the physiological reaction. This phase is known as the impact phase.

Following this phase, is the recoil phase. A period where our bodies in response to such overwhelming stimuli try to make sense of the different sense, emotions and physiological and psychological processes going on behind the scenes.

These could be placed into three different groupings or clusters: avoidant symptoms, intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms and hyper arousal.

Let’s talk about hyper arousal first. It is important to note that adrenaline remains in our system up to four weeks after an event. So our levels of arousal and adrenaline are slightly higher than normal and this may lead to normal responses such as sleeplessness or difficulty falling asleep, irritability, increased anger or aggression, difficulty concentrating and jumpiness, or as the psychologists like to call it: exaggerated startle response ( jumping at slight noises) and even hyper vigilance- always looking out the window or muting the TV because you thought you heard something.

The second group of symptoms is known as intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms, a group of symptoms where we remember parts of the event without wanting to. Nightmares, or flashbacks, unwanted images, and then physical and psychological reactions or distress to emotional or cognitive or sensory reminders. Such as remembering an aspect of the incident and then your heart starts pounding in fear, as if you are reliving the event again.

The third group of symptoms is simply put, a response to the intrusive reminders: we try to avoid them because it is not nice to remember! Avoiding talking about the event, avoiding people or places or activities that remind us of the trauma. Sometimes a person may even forget aspects of the trauma.

What one needs to remembers with all these symptoms is that where they take place within the first four or five weeks after the event, they are recognised as normal healthy responses to a trauma: post-traumatic stress response. It is only thereafter, say about six weeks and where the symptoms continue for about six months that someone may have PTSD.

It is important therefore to recognize that although you may need assistance or counselling , within four weeks of the event, you do not have a disorder but it is your body recalibrating in response to the trauma event. If the symptoms do continue, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional: but seek help.

Go on, BE A HERO AND TALK to someone* if you are struggling with trauma symptoms!

Philip Stoneman

* Speak to a trained therapist, counsellor or psychologist who specialises in traumatic stress.

Categories
Trauma Support SA Projects

SA Police- is the thin blue line cracking?


Anthony Robertson (Tracking & Recovery)I’ve been a reservist for just over five years, before that I worked as a chaplain and met lots of great police officers, some of whom became friends. I experienced the joy of a successful arrest, the frustration of an unsuccessful chase, the irritation of “hurry up and wait” and the insult of an unforgiving, ungrateful public. I’ve felt deep grief at the death of a “Friend in Uniform” , given up on bad planning, boring ops, egotistical officers,’slapgat officers’, and endured the long night shift where nothing happens. I’ve laughed with my crew, laughed at my crew and laughed at other crews. I’ve been shocked, horrified, a little scared, my heart has raced, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve made some real good calls.I’ve recognized how wearing the uniform has changed me, affected me and matured me: but I’ve worn the uniform with pride. I’ve also recognized how lucky I’ve been. Lucky to be a part of that camaraderie” that only those who’ve been a part of can know.Most importantly, I’m lucky I’m still alive.

aaaaaaaOthers are not so lucky. Some have died on duty in a hail of bullets ( excuse the cliché) Others have died at their own hands. Some have taken the lives of others and then their own life. Many officers, although living, just go through the motions of working. For them, the flame that once burned so powerfully, is now a flicker. Officers have turned to corruption, to crime, to drink to drugs and to whatever addiction they can get their hands on.But most, if not all started out wanting to be a police officer: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE!

So, what went wrong? Who can we blame?

Do we blame the history and legacy of apartheid? Do we blame society, the government or the police management, or do we blame ourselves?

The challenges faced by police officers are universal. Every country faces corruption in their police force, there are deaths, suicides and maladaptive ways of coping with the stress of being an officer.

IMG00185-20110218-1246 However, in South Africa these numbers are much higher! The crime is more violent and more concentrated, corruption is greater, our officers are bigger targets for cowardly criminals and the risk our officers face both physically, emotionally and psychologically is much greater.

Our officers are underpaid, under-resourced, unappreciated and at times badly managed. Although there are “systems” in place to manage stress and the effects of trauma, the stigma attached to counselling and psyche services is great, and some do question the abilities, competency and confidentiality of such counselling.

Yes, standing orders exist to ensure that police officers receive counselling after an incident.But I remember the saying “ You can take a horse to the water, but you cant force him to drink”

So lets be brutally honest here, there is a serious problem with the stress levels of our police officers in SA.

The South African Police Force is complex. The SAP faces a mammoth task of tackling crime, our communities expect and demand it, government and opposition parties demand it and of course, the SAP management demands it of their officers. Perhaps in our expectations, therein lies the problem, and the solution may not be what we expect.

I have always believed that one needs to examine the entire problem to find a solution, and for such a complex problem it is impossible that there should be a single solution.

If we want to tackle crime effectively, we need to ensure that our officers are well motivated, well paid, well resourced and well trained. Logical,yes. But motivation and good management and better resources does not necessarily mean the Hoorah, go get em’ boys, better faster cars and a higher salary type of solution, although that would be nice for many I’m sure.

sap5images

Remember the comment about complexity and no single solution?

A lasting solution or improvement would mean a long term strategy to examine the various issues that need adjustment.I could list numerous examples, such as an improvement to the members medical aid for psychological services, so that officers can afford to see a counsellor of their own choice, housing and education allowances, allowances for danger pay, better career advancement opportunities regardless of gender or race, on-going management training for  ranking officers ( perhaps lessons in people skills too- police are people you know!) and of course better marketing or training about the need for self care, stress management and the need to talk about the effects of traumatic stress.

A strategy needs to be drafted to more effectively manage the psycho-social needs of our officers now and it needs to come from the highest level and it needs to happen now. I am quite certain that there are a number of adjustments that need to be made. Part of the adjustment also needs to be made in the expectations of our society and communities and a realisation that when we judge or criticize our police officers, we are in essence judging our own. The men and women that make up our police force are a reflection of South African society,and for change to happen in the SAP, change needs to take place in South Africa and in us as South Africans.

Philip Stoneman

_Dr.Phil_    Philip Stoneman 0732703375 BN SAP.

Categories
Trauma Support SA Projects

BE A HERO AND TALK


     

  The journey to recovery- Invisible Hero’s *

* ( The term :Invisible Heroes, came from the book ‘Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal – BELLERUTH NAPARSTEK)

We recognize a hero as being someone who does something brave and courageous. For example a fireman who dashes into a fire to save a child, or a police officer who even under fire fights back, or even a member of the community who dives into a lake to save someone from drowning. But we never conceive that a survivor of violence or abuse could be a hero. Consider the victim of a smash and grab or hijacking who stands in the queue at the pick ‘n pay or department home affairs to fetch her ID book. Or the victim of a hostage situation who goes to the PTA meeting although her heart is pounding, her mouth is dry; her hands sweating, or the survivor of abuse at the hands of a parent who now has to go and speak to his boss. Perhaps we could call these people invisible heroes: survivors who struggle to make sense of the trauma they have faced, who struggles to understand the symptoms and reactions to the invisible triggers around them. Physiological reactions, emotional reactions and even psychological reactions to smell, sight, sound and touch around them.

Understanding these reactions is half the battle. Understanding how our body works and reacts to senses and trauma assists us in managing these reactions and enables us to move forward and to move on with our lives.

When we experience a traumatic event, our body reacts in a certain manner. When we are faced with danger, for example and to put it simply our body releases certain quick charging chemicals that enable us to face this danger, such as adrenaline. This is known as the fight or flight response, a process whereby as adrenaline is released in our body in response to this danger. A person may respond by fighting back or fleeing the danger or may even freeze. Internally, as our body responds our sense become more sensitive to our environment, our heart rate increases pumping more blood to important muscle groups, pumping blood and oxygen to our brains to process incoming information faster. Our lungs expand, our breathing becomes faster, glucose is converted into energy and so we respond.

Of course, after the danger has passed, and our body no longer has to produce adrenaline in response, we may be left feeling exhausted and fatigued. A sort of sugar low. And those of you who have experienced a sugar low know how that may feel…. Nausea, shivering (blood has been moved to other parts of the body away from skin- remember blood is warm.) so before you even start processing what has happened emotionally, you may not feel ok, and this is just because of the physiological reaction. This phase is known as the impact phase.

Following this phase, is the recoil phase. A period where our bodies in response to such overwhelming stimuli try to make sense of the different sense, emotions and physiological and psychological processes going on behind the scenes.

These could be placed into three different groupings or clusters: avoidant symptoms, intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms and hyper arousal.

Let’s talk about hyper arousal first. It is important to note that adrenaline remains in our system up to four weeks after an event. So our levels of arousal and adrenaline are slightly higher than normal and this may lead to normal responses such as sleeplessness or difficulty falling asleep, irritability, increased anger or aggression, difficulty concentrating and jumpiness, or as the psychologists like to call it: exaggerated startle response ( jumping at slight noises) and even hyper vigilance- always looking out the window or muting the TV because you thought you heard something.

The second group of symptoms is known as intrusive or re-experiencing symptoms, a group of symptoms where we remember parts of the event without wanting to. Nightmares, or flashbacks, unwanted images, and then physical and psychological reactions or distress to emotional or cognitive or sensory reminders. Such as remembering an aspect of the incident and then your heart starts pounding in fear, as if you are reliving the event again.

The third group of symptoms is simply put, a response to the intrusive reminders: we try to avoid them because it is not nice to remember! Avoiding talking about the event, avoiding people or places or activities that remind us of the trauma. Sometimes a person may even forget aspects of the trauma.

What one needs to remembers with all these symptoms is that where they take place within the first four or five weeks after the event, they are recognised as normal healthy responses to a trauma: post-traumatic stress response. It is only thereafter, say about six weeks and where the symptoms continue for about six months that someone may have PTSD.

It is important therefore to recognize that although you may need assistance or counselling , within four weeks of the event, you do not have a disorder but it is your body recalibrating in response to the trauma event. If the symptoms do continue, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional: but seek help.

Go on, BE A HERO AND TALK to someone* if you are struggling with trauma symptoms!

Philip Stoneman

* Speak to a trained therapist, counsellor or psychologist who specialises in traumatic stress.