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'We've got a significant problem' - High rates of post traumatic stress among police, survey finds

A survey of Police Association members has revealed staggeringly high rates of post-traumatic stress among current and former cops.

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The figures from the Police Association show just how much a toll the job is having on staff. Source: 1 NEWS

Of the nearly 4500 who took part in the survey by the Police Association, 42.8 per cent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress or PTS and 14.2 per cent have a clinical diagnosis of it.

Over 2000 of the people are serving sworn members of the force.

“We were aware there’s an issue, anecdotally we hear stories, but we never had the data to show how big of an issue it was, so we wanted some really good research done and this aids that greatly," said Police Association president Chris Cahill.

"We’ve got a significant problem."

The survey included questions about alcohol use, sleep, and the types of events attended.

Cahill said there’s no one part of the job that is more traumatic than the other.

“It can be the simplest thing and then it can be something traumatic. There are serious motor vehicle accidents where people die, but then it can just be the day on day of dealing with victims of family violence.

"One event at a time might not sound too much, but when you’re going day after day it does build up.”

New Zealand military personnel took the same survey last year and their average results were lower than police with 30 per cent showing probable PTS and only 10 per cent having a clinical diagnosis.

Former police officer Jon Vilojen told 1 NEWS that’s because of difference between day to day work between the two organisations.

“Police go to a lot of confrontational situations. I'm not saying the military don't, but it's a shorter and sharper period. But in police, you're doing it as a job day to day.”

Vilojen left the force in 2015 after 14 years in the service.

He said even though he had attended hundreds of call outs, including serious car crashes and deaths, there were only two events that stuck with him and triggered post-traumatic stress.

“I felt them sticking as well and that feeling like you’re out of control. Towards the end it was starting to get harder. I wasn’t sleeping at all...it was putting me under pressure,” he said.

Six years after leaving the police he still suffers from post-traumatic stress and finding treatment he responds to has been difficult.

“My tunnel has been really long and dark, unfortunately.”

His wife, Nicole Vilojen, said it’s astonishing first responders aren’t given immediate support when they ask for it.

“If you're a first responder and you put your hand up and ask for help you should be immediately entitled to get the support that you need. At the moment, you have to go through many different assessments and wait months.”

The survey also found 18 per cent of those with PTS say its driven them to hazardous drinking.

Superintendent Mel Aitken, director of Police’s Safer People branch, said the high rates of PTS among police weren’t surprising.

“We’re exposed to a great deal more than the average member of the public. What I will say, though, is we’re talking about a number of people that possibly haven’t had what we now have and what we have going forward,”

Of the 4489 people who took part in the research 1180 were retired sworn members or had resigned, 146 were former police employees and 676 did not answer the question on their employment status.

Aitken is confident in the systems police have in place to monitor the wellbeing of staff.

“We have developed a new health and safety strategy that is very much about prevention.

"We’ve got a plethora of resources, we have wellness advisers within every district who are trained health professionals. And if it’s deemed necessary the officer needs to get external help, they get referred to a psychologist."

She said the survey results will now set a benchmark for the organisation.

“We want our people safe."

The Vilojens want more support for front line staff.

“All I can say is don’t sit on this. You need to deal with it. Talk to people,” said Vilojen.