Letter* to Officers
by Cheryl Rehl-Hahn
For the officers out there who may be questioning my position by placing blame on how law enforcement agencies are handling the problem of PTSD --- this is for you...........
You may think I'm looking for excuses. Well, let me give you a better word. How about "reason". When someone kills themself, the family and friends of the loved one are left with so much guilt and heartache. The ominous question rebounds over and over again..."Why?" As of this writing, I have been on this whirlwind roller coaster ride for almost 19 months. One year and a half of seeking answers. Looking within the depths of my soul, sometimes I hear directions to follow. So I go, and I search and I find information that astounds me. Suicide, in itself, is a leading cause of death worldwide and the #3 taker of lives for teenagers. Law enforcement is a very high-risk group as well, with more officers dying from suicide than homicide.
But what makes someone complete the act of suicide? Let me ask you this... What is our most basic and primal instinct? Survival. You could be lying on the floor in your own blood while a perpetrator continues to stab at you, or kick you... but you will continue to fight for your life until your last dying breath. It is our nature. So then, suffice it to say that if this is a fact, what of the reverse happening? Doesn't that tell you that there is a reason behind the act of suicide? I will be the first to agree that it is an irrational reason, so perhaps we will call it an irrational state of mind. Yes that's better. So what causes an irrational state of mind? Our brain is the most powerful organ in our body. It is also the least understood. Neurotransmitters and nerves cycling instanaeously and automatically into our bodies to allow us to blink, speak, move and breath. Our brains need certain chemicals (like serotonin) to bring into balance our mental thoughts and actions. If these chemicals are too low or high, indeed then, irrational states-of-mind can take place. Common causes for chemical imbalances are: Depression, Anxiety, Improper Diet, Drug Abuse, Post Traumatic Stress, BiPolar, SADD, and Insomnia, just to name a few.
It is my very strong believe, after reading and researching, that my brother most definitely had undiagnosed PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I believe this because I have learned to listen to that little voice inside that says *ping*. I believe this because for over a year, I've been trying to talk myself into his being depressed. Most suicides are diagonosed (after the fact) that they must have had severe clinical depression. Well that never, ever sat right with me. I knew this man for 31 years. We grew up together sharing giggled secrets. As we grew older we still shared secrets -- some giggled, some serious. But all in all, I never found him depressive. But I would read some of the signs for depression and think -- "Well OK -- he had that..." and I would continue to try to convince myself that he was suffering from depression. Then I stumbled across the signs for PTSD -- some which have the same symptoms as depression -- the very ones I'd always noted. And just sitting there looking at the symptoms for PTSD for the first time... it was like something just clicked. And I knew.... And I know. And in some bizaare way, it sort of closes the "why" for me.
So then, you may ask, if your brother had such trauma on the force, why did he continue his work as an officer? That's a loaded question and I'll try to answer it without going in circles.
**First of all -- He really loved being a cop. He was your all-around good cop. And I say that without any prejudice in being his sister. He thoroughly enjoyed helping people. And this extended off-duty as well. Whenever you needed a helping hand, you gave him a holler and he was there -- pronto. He was my little brother by two and a half years but he was (and always will be) my hero.
**Second - He, nor any of us, knew the seriousness of seeing negativity in people and dealing with dangerous situations everyday, and how that can build-up inside you, causing PTSD. This disorder comes on somewhat silently and slowly progresses over time. Without adequate counceling, medication or knowledge... this disorder can become disabling. Or in the worse cases, lead to suicide. Therefore, everyone basically "poo-pooed" his anxiety attacks -- not knowing that there lie a real cause for them underneath his mental thoughts. Like all of us, he was not without his personal problems. Finances, family, dealing with superiors, all the common stress most people deal with. But on top of that -- as an officer you don't escape it. You go to work and see everyone else's stress, which must profoundly impact your hopes and optimism for your own life. I know that when I work with people, many times just having a stranger smile and say hello can shift my consciousness into a very positive frame of mind. My troubles don't seem so bad. Faith is restored in life. If I were a cop, I know that seeing despair everyday would most definitely pull at me over time. I think that is what happened to Bobby. And dare not one of you think for a minute that he wasn't a *real cop*! Shame on you if those thoughts crossed your mind, and I'm sure there are a few of you, for why else was I inspired to confront you on it? Being a real cop and having PTSD, in many cases, often go hand-in-hand. Real cops show concern -- maybe too much. Hence, PTSD can begin to manifest as one begins to react normally. As officers, you are taught to act tough while war is being waged around you. This is actually an abnormal state-of-mind. As you come to terms with normal emotions, PSTD signs may begin to show in rebuttal to these conflicting emotions. And you may find that now you have war going on inside your head.
**Third - Perhaps subconsciously, my brother did understand the effects of being a big-city cop. I'm not sure if any of his fellow officers knew, but for the last year of his life, he actively looked into other areas ourside the city which were recruiting for new officers. The sad and tragic news is that he received a letter of acceptance with a department in a nice quiet community. It came the day after his death. He never knew. It could have been his ticket to recovery. But we'll never know now.
What's my point? It's called "reality check". We need to acknowledge that our law enforcement men and women continiously deal with dangerous (and sometimes fatal) situations everyday. We need to accept this and not go into denial with excuses that only the gutless can't cut-it. Get real. If you think that, you know as well as I do that you're just fooling yourself. Feeding the mind nonsense which it needs to hear for you to survive. Deep down, seeing all the bullshit has got to have an effect on a truly human nature. If not -- you're in robot mode. And when the robot runs out of batteries, ya' better watch out man, 'cause if people like myself are not around to scream for proper education and awareness programs --then you might find yourself down a dark alley one day with a rope around your neck.