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Letter: Stop the stigma, PTSD is treatable

Marks writes, "In fact, with treatment and support, many people can continue their service and continue making a meaningful difference in our communities."

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Today, the people we rely on to protect our communities – our local police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel – are leaving the profession in record numbers. That doesn’t have to be the case. I want all first responders, especially my fellow police officers, to know that post-traumatic stress is treatable and there are resources available for anyone struggling.

As a law enforcement officer for more than 23 years and a licensed therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how daily interactions on the job impact my colleagues and my clients, and the repercussions that untreated stress and trauma brings to their families and communities. But post-traumatic stress doesn’t have to end your career. In fact, with treatment and support, many people can continue their service and continue making a meaningful difference in our communities.

It starts with all of us remembering that post-traumatic stress is no different from a physical injury. In many cases, it’s possible to address symptoms before they develop into a debilitating condition. And even if a first responder develops PTSD, it is treatable and there are many proven therapies. Mental illness should not be stigmatized.

First responders are just like everyone else: We have joys and stresses at work and in our personal lives. It’s not unusual that someone could be dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression or any other difficult emotions.

In order to fully support the health and well-being of police officers and other first responders, it’s necessary to provide early education and training to help them develop coping and stress relieving strategies. New officers and firefighters receive thorough training on how to do their jobs and stay safe, but they need tools and resources to help with the emotional hazards of the job.

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Asking for help is a sign of strength and not a weakness. Leaders within these departments – many of whom have served in this environment for decades – need to be trained to recognize the signs of mental injuries and stress in their people, and also be provided their own support resources. Being proactive about offering assistance – such as mandatory department-wide wellness checks – gives people the opportunity to talk with a mental health professional without the stigma of raising their hand for help. Removing barriers to entry makes it easier to take the first steps toward wellness.

Public safety organizations have begun to see the need to help their people remain resilient, however more help is needed. As a community, we need to support education, prevention strategies and funding for first responder mental health treatment because we are losing too many valuable people to an illness that is treatable.

And to anyone who is struggling: PTSD is treatable. Don’t wait to reach out for the support you need to heal.

Scott Marks is a police officer of 23 years and a licensed therapist. He currently serves as a patrol sergeant for the Minnetonka Police Department.

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