Information for Partners, Family & Friends of Cops: How can I help my current or previously serving cop?

When a Police Officer heads off to work each day there is the potential for them to be exposed to traumatic events. Over a career, it is likely that a Police Officer will experience multiple traumatic events. Exposure to either a single or even multiple traumatic events does not mean a person will develop psychological difficulties, but if they do, there are things you can do to help.

There are a number of symptoms related to PTSD and other psychological issues, however not everyone experiences exactly the same symptoms nor do they necessarily experience the same symptoms in the same way. It can be confronting when a loved one or someone you care about is adversely affected by what they have experienced on the job and you might find your cop acting in ways that you are not used to12. For example, your cop might become withdrawn, distant, moody, shut down, numb, or irritable leading to you feeling shut out123. If you notice your cop acting in these ways, it is possible they are experiencing a traumatic reaction and trying to block out painful memories of what they have experienced. It is also a potential sign that they are not coping1.

No matter how distressing, overwhelming, frightening or frustrating it is to see your cop go through such changes, it is likely a sign that they need help123. Below is a list of things you can do to help your cop:


Practical support

  • Learn as much as you can about PTSD. By learning as much as you can about what is happening for your cop, the better you will be at helping them through what they are experiencing3.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to go appointments with them13. Their GP is a good place to start.
  • Encourage them to get back into their normal daily routine. People experiencing trauma can feel out of control of what is happening to them so re-establishing a normal routine can help your cop to feel a sense of control again1.
  • If they are struggling to keep up with their daily routine, suggest taking over practical things they are struggling with such as offering to look after the kids, do the shopping, or cook dinner for them1.
  • Help them to avoid triggers that lead to traumatic memories. Sights, sounds, smells, places and people can trigger traumatic memories. You might consider limiting their exposure to media coverage of the event they were exposed to as well as other potentially traumatic media coverage12.
  • Encourage them to take care of themselves through getting plenty of sleep and rest, eating well, and exercising regularly. Conversely, encourage them to limit their intake of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and coffee1. If your cop is experiencing trauma, their nervous system is already in a constant state of alert that does not need further stimulation2.
  • Encourage them to engage in enjoyable activities and to aim to do something enjoyable every day1.

Emotional Support

  • Tell them you are there to listen if they want to talk, but that you also understand if they don’t want to3. Avoid pressuring your cop to talk if they don’t want to (5). Never feel as though it is your responsibility to make them feel better or that you have to say the absolute perfect thing1, rather:
  • Try to put yourself in their shoes.
  • Allow them to talk, don’t interrupt.
  • Keep the focus on them rather than talking about your own experiences.
  • Avoid platitudes such as saying you know how they feel or you’ll be O.K.
  • Try to acknowledge how your cop is feeling by saying things such as “it’s a tough time for you” or “it’s hard to go through this”.
  • Use leading questions such “How are you going?” or “Would you like to talk about it?”
  • If they don’t want to talk about the event or how they are feeling, but want to talk about something else, allow them to do so.
  • Allow them to take the lead.
  • Try to remain calm.
  • Be patient.12
  • Reassure them that what they are experiencing is normal given what they have experienced. Allow them the space to be upset and process how they are feeling1.
  • Let your cop know when you notice them improving or when they achieve even the smallest goal. It is important for them to know that they are improving, even if they are not back to their old selves yet1.

Social Support

  • Although people experiencing trauma can become increasingly withdrawn, encourage your cop to spend time with others each day1.
  • Suggest that they stay in contact with close friends and family3.
  • Plan activities together such as going out for dinner, going to the movies, or doing an activity together such as exercise3.
  • Avoid blaming what your cop is going through for difficulties in your relationship with them. Rather, express your commitment to your relationship with them2.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Supporting someone who has experienced trauma can be difficult. Ensuring that you are O.K is likely the best thing you can do to support your cop1.
  • What your cop is going through is neither your fault nor your responsibility3.
  • Take timeout from your support role and allow others to help. Ensure you maintain your own life such as friendships, hobbies, and other activities2.
  • Seek help yourself if you find you are not coping1.
  • Just as you encourage your cop to do, make sure you are getting enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly2.
  • Ensure you set boundaries. Even though your cop is struggling there is only so much you can do to help. There is also no excuse for your cop to be abusive or potentially violent2.

1 Phoenix Australia. (2016, September 18). Recovery: Helping Others. Retrieved from http://phoenixaustralia.org/recovery/helping-others/

2 HelpGuide.org. (2016, September 18). How to help someone with PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-the-family.htm

3 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016, September 18). Helping a family member who has PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/helping-family-member.asp

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