Organization helps police officers deal with trauma

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – In the last week, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has been called to central Ohio three times for officer-involved incidents.

What kind of toll can that take on an officer?

Overtime, officers can experience something called traumatic layering. It’s when their brain stops processing trauma. It’s something the First Responders’ Bridge has seen one too many times.

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“We hear the officer involved shootings and we know that that’s a critical incident, but we refer to it as death by a thousand cuts,” said Maureen Kocot, the director of development for First Responders’ Bridge.

According to the organization, throughout a 25-year career, a law enforcement officer can face as many as 700 critical incidents: events that cause an overwhelming amount of stress. To put that into perspective, the average person may experience two to five critical incidents in their entire life.

“It’s heartbreaking, right? Like when you see that image of a projectile wedged in an officer’s cavalier vest like you know, that was not only a terrifying incident, but that was truly a life or death situation,” she said.

Kocot said if an individual asks most first responders how they’re holding up following a traumatic incident, they’ll get one of two answers: “I’m fine” or “I’m good.” While that may be true in the moment, it doesn’t mean they will be years from now.

“I had a first responder say it best, you know, how can we help people in crisis if we’re in crisis? And that’s why it’s so important to process that trauma, because what they really want is to get back in their cruiser, get back there on the street and start making a difference in their community,” said Kocot.

According to the medical director of Psychiatric Emergency Services with OhioHealth, Megan Schabbing, everyone experiences trauma differently.

“Well, having something so traumatic like this happen, it can have obviously immediate effects and then it can have kind of long term effects,” said Schabbing.

Officers could experience anxiety or on a more serious note, post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You don’t have to live with that kind of suffering or that kind of emotional pain,” said Schabbing, “Don’t be afraid to reach out and get some help and don’t be embarrassed.”

The mission of the First Responders’ Bridge is to support all active and retired first responders as well as their loved ones. It works to promote personal growth and healthy relationships.

According to the organization, more firefighters and police officers die by suicide than all line of duty deaths combined.

The bridge offers confidential and expense free retreats. During the retreat, attendees will receive information concerning their health and wellbeing. The goal of the organization is to break the stigma and help first responders go from hurting to healing.

Their next one is Aug. 23 through Aug. 25.

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