In 2001, my husband retired after a 22 year law enforcement career. He served as a state trooper and as a federal agent in the DEA task force. He served and protected. I was and still am incredibly proud of him. But his career did not only come with dozens of awards, recognitions, certificates of appreciations and trooper of the year, it came with something that would last a lifetime.
It came with a complex post-traumatic stress diagnosis (PTSD). Something that not only will remind him of his service forever but also remind our family. The difference is we couldn’t hang this on a wall, wave it around for all to see, or even proudly talk about it because you see, it was unexpected and caused havoc on him and our family.
We were blindsided. I can make this statement because in all the years of service he was never trained on the negative mental effects that the job could have on him. When he was ready to retire, he was never warned of the demons that might creep up on him. Even during his years of working as a state trooper, dealing with fatalities, notifications, and suicides or working undercover in the world of narcotics, was he ever asked if he was okay or if he needed to talk.
READ MORE: TEN THINGS I NEED MY TROOPER TO KNOW
The end result is, hyper vigilance, paranoia, suspicion, depression, addiction, anxiety, sleepless nights and erratic behavior. Combine that with his wife (me) and his children not having a single clue about what was happening and – welcome to HELL. We lived two years of absolute chaos, uncertainty and extreme fear.
Once my husband was finally diagnosed and I did my research, I discovered that my family was not the only family dealing with the horror of PTSD. There were thousands of first responders and their families dealing with the same issue we were. We were not alone.
What surprised me and quite frankly pissed me off, is that no one was talking about it, addressing it and even worse, there was no help out there to help him or help us.
How could that be?
How could it be okay to have these men and women serve, see all they saw, deal with all they dealt with and then, just look the other way?
My husband made it to retirement. Many cops don’t. My husband lived through it. Many cops don’t. In an attempt to scream and yell out to first responders everywhere, “Hey, you are not alone,” I co-produced and directed the, ‘Code 9 Officer Needs Assistance,’ documentary.
I wanted others to know that PTSD is real, they are not alone and we will no longer be silent.
The film is out. It has done a great job of helping others to understand and help educate the public, as well. Our work doesn’t stop here. I am the founder to the non-profit organization, ‘Code 9 Heroes and Families United.’
Our mission is to prioritize, ‘Making First Responder Mental Health.’ We work towards positive change in the First Responder culture.
We continue to raise awareness, advocate and educate on the devastating effects of PTSD for First Responders and their families. It can lead to suicide.
We are working with many other organizations to effect real change through training and education.
A LOOK BACK IN TIME
Many things have changed since 2001. We are more aware of the huge problem caused by PTSD as well as suicide for first responders. Awareness is not enough. We must do more to change a culture that has been resistant to change.
How do we do that?
We work hard to change the laws in each state. That is clearly possible because, we did it here in Florida. Other states are following. We join together and insist that our voices be heard. We tell officials that enough men and women have died by their own hand. Saving lives by making their mental health a priority is a MUST!
During the past eighteen years, my family has had to learn how to live with my husband’s PTSD. I have had the opportunity to meet the most amazing first responders. We have joined with families who have fought hard and have come through the darkness and hopelessness, as well.
It is possible.
There is help.
WHAT TO DO NOW – IF YOU’RE ON THE J.O.B.
If your department doesn’t get on board, then you must seek the help you need on your own. Make yourself a priority because once you reach a time of acute need, recovery can become elusive.
This is no joke.
PTSD is very real and it is killing too many of those who serve.
It is in your DNA to help others. That’s what you do and, you do it well. Now, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I taking care of ME?”
I bet the answer for most cops will be, “No.”
If you want to live a healthy life – physically and mentally, please take the steps necessary to get things in order. Do it today. It will save your life.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
Deborah wants to hear from her readers – EMAIL
Further information about Code9 can be obtained here: www.Code9.org
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