Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 by

Blue Trauma Syndrome

EDITORS NOTE:
The following material is from the new book “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement“ to be published later this year by John Marx the founder of CopsAlive.com.

At the Law Enforcement Survival Institute we define “Blue Trauma Syndrome” as a spectrum of negative physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health-effects manifested by a career in law enforcement. Blue trauma syndrome most certainly has it’s roots in large or cumulative doses of negative occupational stress and manifests many negative physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms.

Stress makes for an interesting enemy. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it and most times you can’t even describe it. But it is there, and it attacks us every day. We must defend ourselves and armor ourselves from it’s effects otherwise a careers worth of battle fatigue will overtake all of us. I know that I am speaking in generalities here but I think a proper amount of introspection will reveal this is true for the vast majority of us.

Now you can read all the research that’s out there (and there isn’t enough) on the effect stress has on law enforcement officers but it still doesn’t give us enough information about what stresses will get to us. Part of the problem is because the same stress will affect each officer differently and it’s… different for you on different days and during different times of your career. The danger also appears to be cumulative and attacks you drip by drip and day by day over the life of your career. We see the signs but we dismiss them as “burnout”, bad moods, anger, frustration and withdrawal. These symptoms are probably really representative of depression, grief, misery, hopelessness and emotional exhaustion created by cumulative stress. I believe that all of these symptoms can be lumped into one general category that I call “Blue Trauma Syndrome”.

It’s time to create a comprehensive training regime that will protect us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

It’s also time that we correct our language in describing the threats that confront us. It’s easy to say that the big threat against us is job stress. We can describe post traumatic stress and cumulative stress but really the term stress is inadequate to fully describe what many of us can feel as the toxic nature of this job. Some of the threats against us come suddenly, while others are more insidious and chip away at our wellness over weeks, months and even years.

What does it take to properly train and condition a modern law enforcement professional, civilian as well as sworn, to endure the rigors of this career?

What threats do YOU have to defend your “self” against and how are you going to do that?

Stress as a Catchall:

The word stress has become a generic term for all that ails cops. The truth is that we don’t really know all the effects that this career will have on you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In truth stress can be a good thing for a police officer or other professional in this career. We don’t know what makes some officers lose hope or others become depressed. We are not really clear about what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is or how you get it, or even what to do about it. There are no clear links between addictive behaviors like alcohol or drug abuse, or excessive gambling, or overeating and law enforcement, yet there are symptoms. The connections between this career and major diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes are only now coming into our awareness and being studied.

These complicated concepts have required that I create some new terms as language to describe these issues so that we are all talking about the same thing. In the book, so that we are all on the same page so to speak, I will use terms like “Blue Trauma Syndrome” and Tactical Resilience™. These are terms of my own creation designed so that you will be able to identify with what I am describing to you, using my definitions and analogies without becoming confused with what other educators or authors are talking about. I hope that the use of these terms will generate discussion and even controversy within our profession, because as of this writing we could use a whole lot more discussion about what’s killing us and what to do about it.

Tactical Resilience™

Another term I have coined to better launch our wellness strategies is Tactical Resilience™. My definition of Tactical Resilience™ is that it is a human quality of intentional strength and fitness, that can be developed, and is exhibited through the mind, body, brain and spirit of a police officer or other law enforcement or military professional that allows them to withstand the rigors and hidden emotional, physical, spiritual and physiological dangers of continuous high threat, high stress situations.

What’s our target?

Our target is personal and organizational resiliency. We need to build both personal and organizational resiliency in order to survive the constant battering that a career in law enforcement does to your mind, body and spirit with stress and the other hidden dangers of this profession.

What is resilience?

For the purposes of this discussion I’m defining Resilience as being emotionally flexible and physically elastic with the ability to bounce back from adversity because of a capability to endure trauma, tragedy and hardship.

New concepts have required that I create new language like “Blue Trauma Syndrome” and “Tactical Resilience™” in order to effectively communicate the messages that I want us all to understand.

Why is resilience important to you?

Resilience is what we in law enforcement have to strive for in order to survive our careers with a sound mind, body and spirit. It is what we need to be able to muster to be able to function well enough to enjoy many more happy and productive years after retirement from the job.

This new book is going to talk about a lot of things but the bottom line is that when we are talking about human health there are a lot of things that are still not known nor proven by science. When I talk about armoring your “self” physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually I am making suggestions that are based upon best practices but that may or may not have any scientific support.

The important thing for you to grasp is that making your self resilient is a very challenging process and the steps needed may be different for you than they are for others.

A key part of this process is getting to know yourself and discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. The important thing is for you to be open-minded and to experiment and do your own research. Try things out and keep records of how they affect you. Talk to your peers and ask what works for them. Talk to people in other departments and learn what they think is important.  Make your efforts toward resilience intentional.

The worst thing you can do is what so many of us have been doing for years and that is doing nothing. Living in denial about how this job affects you and doing nothing to minimize those effects. The first thing we need to do is create a language we can use to target and eradicate these problems.

In conclusion I suggest that first we change our language and then we change our strategies for wellness.

I suggest that for the purposes of our professional discussions let’s define the “Blue Trauma Syndrome” as a spectrum of negative physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual side-effects manifested by a career in law enforcement.

We can also define Tactical Resilience™ as a process of intentionally strengthening and conditioning the mind, body, brain and spirit of a police officer or other law enforcement or military professional to withstand the rigors and hidden emotional, physical, spiritual and physiological dangers of continuous high threat, high stress situations. Please remember that I coined the term Tactical Resilience™ not to make things more complicated but rather to create a laser focus onto what we are talking about and more specifically what we are trying to protect against.

This process is designed to improve their emotional toughness, physiological elasticity and psychological effectiveness to increase their ability to withstand and recover from excessive or cumulative stresses and also to make that person more able to endure these hardships, traumas, tragedies and similar adversity in the future.

In short it’s the ability to take a single or continuous physical, emotional, mental or spiritual “punch” and have the capacity to bounce back to a state of effective functioning with minimal and easily manageable side-effects.

In future articles we will discuss more of the specific from the Armor Your Self™ book but until then let me also give you some of the facets of this concept:

Armor Your Self™

The process we are calling Armor Your Self™ works toward achieving Tactical Resilience™ and is designed to improve emotional toughness, physiological elasticity and psychological effectiveness in order to increase our ability to withstand and recover from excessive or cumulative stresses. This also may make us more able to endure the hardships, traumas, tragedies and adversity we see every day.

It follows then that our definition for the term Armor Your Self™ is that it is a process of strengthening and conditioning the mind, body, brain and spirit of a police officer or other law enforcement or military professional to withstand the rigors and hidden emotional, physical, spiritual and physiological dangers of continuous high threat, high stress situations.

Armor Your Self™ is also a comprehensive concept of wellness training and systems layered over each other, and working in concert, to build a healthy and effective law enforcement professional and corresponding organization. The other layers of this training are the concepts of Armor Your Agency™ and True Blue Valor™.

Armor Your Agency™

The Armor Your Agency™ Model Agency Profile includes components that I’ve called “Primary Strategies” as well as additional suggestions labeled “Secondary Strategies“. These have been suggested so that you can look outside of your agency to discover what additional resources might be available to you from within our law enforcement profession or your community. This process is about identifying “Best Practices” and benchmarks from other agencies or other communities so that we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to agency and staff wellness.

Armor Your Agency™ Model Agency Profile
Primary Strategies
Mentoring Programs
Proactive Peer Support
Chaplain’s Program
Family Support Network
Psychological Services
Annual Resilience Training
Critical Incident Support System
Annual LOD Death Prevention Training – Driving, Firearms, Arrest Control – Below 100
Survivor Support
Medical Services
Intervention Plan
Officer Selection Focused upon wellness beliefs and practices
Separation supporting on-going wellness activities
Officer recovery case management
Wellness Program & Education – Diet
Departmental Fitness Program – Including Paid or Volunteer Fitness Trainers
Resource Library
Officer Recovery Case Management
True Blue Valor™ Training
Suicide Prevention Training
QPR Training
Secondary Strategies
FTI Training
On-going Training
Supervisors Training
Supervisors Support
Community Resources
CopsAlive.com
Safe Call Now
Serve & Protect Hotline Safe Call Now or Chaplain

True Blue Valor™

Finally, the concept of True Blue Valor™ is about changing our professional culture to truly walk our talk and not “leave anyone behind”. True Blue Valor™ is where one cop has the courage to confront a buddy who is slipping professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system, organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of True Blue Valor™.

The concept of True Blue Valor™ describes a situation where a police officer has the courage to confront a peer who is slipping professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. In order to facilitate such an act it takes a complete system of organizational support and professional leadership to foster and encourage the concept of True Blue Valor™. All of this is necessary so that officers will risk taking a chance to help a peer who is in trouble.

We need to change the culture to where mental and emotional health is maintained just like physical health including preventative measures and early diagnosis, intervention and treatment

This concept builds nicely with the “Make It Safe” initiative designed to help police officers to trust one another enough to be able to ask for help when they need it. This initiative, started by police psychologist Jack Digliani, Ph.D., Ed.D., gives suggestions about what we have to do to our law enforcement culture to make seeking mental health support for stress related issues okay.
CLICK HERE for a “Make It Safe” flyer to post on bulletin boards or go here: http://www.copsalive.com/make-it-safe/ to read our CopsAlive.com article about the Make It Safe Initiative.

If you are reading this and are in need of immediate help, please call the Safe Call Now crisis hotline for first responders at 1-206-459-3020.

Stay tuned for more information about our new book!

CopsAlive was started six years ago when one of my law enforcement friends committed suicide. At that time no one was willing to talk about police officer suicides. Today, things are changing and CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. We invite you to share your opinions, ask questions and suggest topics for us in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.

You are not alone. We will help you with training and resources to strengthen and condition yourselves, your peers, your department and our police culture so that deaths like those of my friend will not be in vain.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

Our “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement” on-site training program is an eight hour, hands-on, “How to” seminar that helps police officers and other law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to survive their careers in police work. To learn more CLICK HERE

The concept of “True Blue Valor™” is where one law enforcement officer has to muster the courage to confront a peer who is slipping both professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of courage and intervention. We will train your trainers to deliver this program to your agency.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Our “Armor Your Agency™: How to Create a Healthy and Supportive Law Enforcement Agency” Program includes critical strategies that you will need to build a system of support and encouragement for a healthy and productive agency. To learn more CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.

I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of CopsAlive.com. Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

4 Comments

  • Martin L Wilson,
    March 23rd, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Sir, I embarked on such a campaign while still employed with the Border Patrol. I was largely ignored because as you put it, there is not enough research and me being just a “chaplain”. Do you need help? I have 10 years experience as a Border Patrol Agent Chaplain. I assisted in both preparing and instructing at the BP Chaplains Academy. I have training with The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation with a specialty in Pastoral Care. I believe that resilience can and should be a regular part of training. I believe in your mission. I do not want to start from scratch. I am fully fluent in Spanish. I retired in October of 2012.

  • Your concepts are spot-on! Some of us don’t even realize the damage that has been done until years after retirement. But, it is real, and it is harmful. My hat is off to you, John. I wish this had been available 20 years ago!

  • Hello Martin,
    Thank you very much for your positive comments and for your years of service. I welcome your input as this concept and process develops. I encourage you to continue to follow CopsAlive.com (you might even sign up for the email notifications in the box at the top center of the page) as well as the work we are doing at the Law Enforcement Survival Institute at http://www.LawEnforcementSurvivalInstitute.org. Please stay in touch and we will find a way to work together.

  • Hi Linda,
    Thank you for your comments, and as you know I wish they were available 20 years ago as well!

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