How Can Detectives Protect Themselves From Secondary Trauma?

Police officers who work their way to detective status often work some of the more troublesome crimes out there. Their job regularly takes them away from their families and into the line of fire with other people. They end up suffering from secondary trauma as they are witness to car accidents and injuries. A trauma is an experienced or witnessed event that involves serious injury or possibly death. By knowing what causes the trauma, symptoms, and how to treat it, officers can protect themselves from burnout and safeguard their mental and physical health. 

Working with Crime

Being part of a police force is often a dream job for many. It might be a job they start later in life after they have been doing other work in the criminal justice field. Others join the police force as soon as they are able. Either way, officers walk into many situations that test them in different ways and, eventually, can work their way up to detective. Judges and attorneys who specialize in sexual assaults also go over images to make the best decision possible. Officers who specialize in sex offender supervision are often tasked with reading accounts of the offense. They witness images, videos, and encounter the worst things people do to others daily. Sexual crimes are some of the hardest for people to deal with, especially when it involves children. On average, six people are exposed to each individual crime. That’s a lot of people impacted by secondary trauma. 

Recognizing Symptoms of Trauma

The symptoms of traumatic experiences may pop up suddenly for some people. A person who experiences abuse or neglect as a child may grow up to become a detective. While on the force, they are exposed to images and videos of abuse or neglect. Furthermore, their job requires them to help families deal with these issues in their home. This can trigger past trauma to resurface. Resilience is an essential factor in how a person will handle exposure to trauma. Resilient people can detach for periods and can cope healthily. On-the-job coping skills are an essential part of police work. At some point, they will need to deal with their feelings. Symptoms of secondary trauma may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Lethargy
  • Substance use
  • PTSD symptoms
  • Emotional symptoms of grief and sadness
  • Irritability and mood swings

If a loved one at home is experiencing these things, they may be in a crisis point where they need support. Professionally, they are simply dealing with too much, and it has become unmanageable. Vicarious trauma can keep people from positively rebounding from the incidents. Instead, they find themselves stuck, haunted by traumatic images and memories. 

Rotating Jobs

Detectives often work in different departments for a while. Sexual crimes units are a hard place to work for long periods. If people are struggling to do the job, they may need to transfer out of it so they can work in a different area for a while. Some professionals who are not rotated out may struggle with symptoms associated with grief, loss, and pain. The same professionals who are likely to experience isolation and trauma are those suffering from trauma disorders. Mental health professionals who work with survivors of abuse can build resilience against it over time. Still, they may need to take breaks to rest up while their resilience builds. 

Prevention May Be Key

Most people work to build coping skills for life, but forget work is the same way. For detectives at work, they need to shore up their inner resources so they can rebound easier from the things they witness every day. Professionals at risk should build healthy, intimate relationships outside of work. Leave work at work and go enjoy being with family. It is hard but necessary to do this, so there is separation from the job and home life. 

Coping Skills That Don’t Work

Substance use and mental illness often go together for detectives who are struggling. One may beget the other. A detective may feel depressed and drink as a result, or drink and become depressed or anxious. These coping skills are unhealthy and lead to further complications down the road. Training and education on trauma should be offered to people working in detective employment situations. They should find support in therapy and groups that help first responders with treatment. If they need substance abuse treatment, there is help available that specializes in their field. It is worth exploring and finding hope in that space for recovery. Healing from addiction takes time, and it is a long journey. It may be time to take off work and rest, recover, and work on oneself for a while. It may be time to explore other opportunities and options. There is always hope on the other side of the challenges, but it takes time to get there. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when navigating these difficult situations.

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