Dr. Stephanie Conn’s (2018) recent book entitled, “Increasing Resilience in Police and Emergency Personnel,” commences with a chapter labeled, “Are Police Resilient?” She explores the emergence of a growing trauma, PTSD and suicide awareness campaign within the first responder community, examining its positive implications for organizations, as well its unintended consequences. As one engaged in the culture war, seeking to champion the cause of addressing first responder resilience needs within our organizations, I have often sounded the alarm in my articles, university teaching roles, training sessions and personal communication. As Conn (2018) discussed in her book, the urgency in some of our communication drawing attention to first responder PTSD and suicide, may inadvertently portray the false idea that the preponderance of law enforcement and fire/paramedic personnel are walking psychological casualties. While first responder PTSD and suicide are salient issues that must be addressed, it is equally important to remember to fulfill the needs of the resilient majority.
As I reflect on my own journey towards engaging in the cause of altering first responder and especially law enforcement culture, towards a deliberate focus on addressing wellness needs, I remember disconnecting whenever PTSD and police suicide were discussed. As one of the many in the first responder community never to have experienced suicidal ideation or clinical PTSD, a focus on the extreme end of the trauma continuum did not meet my needs. As a young officer, I simply did not see the urgency in the message. Although I knew I was not immune to some of the negative consequences of my traumatic experiences, I felt I was surviving emotionally, and according to my anecdotal assessment, so were most of my peers.
Connecting with the Resilient Majority at Every Level
As I progressed through my law enforcement career and my awareness of my own wellness needs and those of my peers developed, each time I attended a training session discussing trauma, PTSD and first responder suicide, I became concerned that both executive level leaders and my peers would dismiss the entire concept of officer wellness just as I did, since most of them could not relate with clinical PTSD or suicidal ideation. While we cannot ignore our brothers and sisters who suffer from debilitating depression, PTSD and/or suicidal ideation, we must not forget the resilient majority in the process. As we seek to alter first responder culture towards the facilitation of wellness needs, I believe the anecdote for this dilemma is an emphasis on explaining trauma as existing on a continuum, rather than the false dichotomy of being completely absent or manifesting as complex PTSD (Grossman, 2004). Although the majority of first responders will never develop clinical PTSD or experience suicidal ideation, professional experience and academic literature clearly indicate that most, if not all first responders, have or will incur emotional discord during their careers (Plat et al., 2010). This includes the resilient majority, who can generally be categorized as emotional survivors.
Leading a Culture of Wellness
We have an obligation to reinforce all our peers, wherever they exist on the trauma continuum. Just as we must embrace those at the extreme end of the trauma continuum, and ensure we provide the loving friendship and resources needed to save their lives, our stewardship to care for our own includes the resilient majority, who may need tools to lead them towards greater levels of resiliency. Although assisting our resilient colleagues increase personal fulfillment and achievement results in obvious intrinsic rewards, equally important is our need for the resilient to buttress the struggling, by wielding their strength to embrace a culture of wellness. We can encourage the resilient to employ a multidirectional leadership strategy, as first responders at every level lead their subordinates, superiors and peers towards a new culture of wellness (Browne, 2017). As we remember to connect with the resilient majority, we will enlist an enormous army of organizational culture warriors, capable of catapulting our agencies towards an entrenched culture of wellness, subsequently transforming our departments into impenetrable resilience fortresses.
Sgt. Joshua Browne, M.P.S. is a police sergeant, adjunct professor within The George Washington University’s Master of Homeland Security Program, and founder of Heal the Badge Consulting. He authors articles and provides training courses in the realms of emotional resilience and altering organizational culture towards wellness. His efforts seek to realize the goal of fortifying law enforcement professionals, leaders and their families, by providing the necessary resilience tools for success within, outside and beyond the law enforcement career. He also utilizes his law enforcement and academic experience to lead individuals outside of the first responder community, towards reconciling their traumatic experiences and realizing the meaning and growth embedded therein.
Browne, J. E. (2017). Positive Multidirectional Leadership: Ascending, Descending and Horizontal Emotional Support. Retrieved from http://www.healthebadge.com/hello-world/
Conn, S. M. (2018). Are Police Resilient? In Increasing Resilience in Police and Emergency Personnel: Strengthening Your Mental Armor (1st ed., pp. 1-30). New York, NY: Routledge.
Grossman, D. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. Belleville, IL: PPTC Research.
Plat, M. J., Westerveld, G. J., Hunter, R. C., Olff, M., Frings-Dresen, M. H., & Sluiter, J. K. (2010). Post Traumatic Distress and Growth: An Empirical Study of Police Officers. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 64, 55-72. Retrieved from www.eds.a.ebscohost.com