Awareness of PTSD – Signs and Symptoms

Trauma in the correctional professional is very complex. While many definitions or discussions on trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) identify a particular incident that is defined as traumatic, the correctional professional has multiple incidents throughout a shift, let alone career that could be identified as multiple traumatic incidents.

Diagnostic criteria for PTSD in DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), includes a defining criteria of traumatic incident as “repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse)”. While one may be able to identify a particular event that has triggered behavioral symptoms, it is important to note that “reoccurring exposure” is a diagnostic criterion that is appropriate for the correctional professional.

Traumatic response behaviors/symptoms include the following:

  • Negative feelings about themselves or others
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb – sense of being emotionally numb, experiencing a sense unreality, dissociative amnesia (pushing out the awareness of the incident)
  • Spacing out
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia, hypervigilance
  • Increased anxiety
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much, gambling, road rage
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping, hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts about the incidents
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Avoiding discussions about the incidents *
  • Avoiding work

*(In corrections there is the unwritten rule “don’t bring your work home with you”. This is a challenge to the potential willingness to discuss and incident. Working with a therapist can help differentiate between maintaining professionalism as an officer and a traumatic response).

For more information on PTSD check out National Center for PTSD