When to see a counselor or therapist? 

Jake is a 40 year old, married and father of two who has been a member of the city police force for nearly 8 years. During that time, he has seen numerous motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence calls, fires and several situations that involved the loss of a life. Two of the latter situations involved the loss of a child.

Jake and his partner responded to a motor vehicle accident 3 weeks ago that involved a mother and child being hit by a drunk driver. The child looked close in age to his oldest. While Jake was trying to resuscitate the child, the mother was crying hysterically. He did everything he could do, but the child died. Jake felt compassion for the mother and family. He could not recall the details of the event like his partner and he felt “in a daze”. He could not get the sound of the mother’s crying and the image of the helpless and limp child out of his mind. He kept thinking that he should have done more to save the child’s life even though the paramedics confirmed that he did everything correctly. 

Jake felt uneasy anytime they received a call to go to subsequent accidents. He began to notice having difficulty filling out reports, being easily distracted and irritable and had trouble falling asleep at night. His wife noticed his using alcohol at times when he would not normally be drinking and he had to call in sick one day due to a hangover which had never occurred in the past. 

His supervisor noticed a change in Jake’s behavior:  he seemed quiet and not at all like himself. Finally, his boss suggested he take some time off and suggested seeing the employee assistance counselor.  Jake did not understand what was happening to him and wondered:  “Am I loosing my mind?”

Jake was not losing his mind, but was showing the signs of an Acute Stress Disorder, a condition not uncommon to first responders who witness or are confronted with a situation where there is a loss of life, a serious injury or experience a threat to their own life. Symptoms that might suggest Acute Stress Disorder are:

  • Feeling numb, detached or a loss of emotional responsiveness
  • Feeling in a “daze”, not like oneself
  • Unable to recall an important part of the traumatic event
  • Having recurrent images, dreams or flashbacks of the event
  • Avoiding anything that would remind one of the event
  • Feeling restless, irritable, difficulty concentrating or problems sleeping
  • Impairing functioning on the job or in relationships
  • Disturbed feelings lasting anywhere from 2 days to a month following the event
How can I tell when I may be in need of help?

Begin by asking yourself the following question: “In the past 1-2 weeks, have I experienced…”

  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things myself
  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Feeling bad about myself
  • Problems concentrating
  • Feelings of irritability and have been easily set off

Depending on how many of these problems you are having and their severity you may be experiencing signs of depression.

Now, try answering this question: “In the last week have I been feeling…”

  • Unable to relax
  • Dizzy or lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fearful of losing control
  • Indigestion or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Shaky
  • Terrified
  • Hot, face flushed

Again, depending on how many of these symptoms you have experienced and how bad they are, you may be experiencing signs of anxiety. A person may be experiencing signs of both depression and anxiety since they can occur at the same time.

 

Other common treatable conditions and their symptoms:

panic attack is an intense fear coming on very suddenly and building up within 10 minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fear of going crazy
Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is the persistent re-experiencing of a traumatic event. Symptoms associated with PTSD include:
  • Feeling disconnected, numb and loss of interest in typical activities
  • Trouble sleeping, easily set off (outbursts of anger) and on edge
  • Feeling unrelenting guilt or shame after a particular event
  • Struggling to avoid thinking about an event or places that remind you of what happened

Signs or symptoms can tell us something is wrong. Their frequency and severity can interfere with our family and work life. Your partner, a family member, friend, supervisor or co-worker may see the signs you don’t see and suggest you talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Trust their perceptions and suggestions. These are all very treatable conditions and are all much more commonly experienced than you might think.

Richard W. Rodgers, Ed.D., ABPP
Licensed Psychologist

Resource

Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” by Kevin Gilmartin
internet link: http://www.emotionalsurvival.com/author.htm