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Self-support techniques after a major incident

Policing is exciting, challenging and often dangerous work. It involves adjusting to everyday exposure, to incidents and situations that for more people might only happen once in a lifetime.

What makes an incident traumatic?

Some incidents can be harder to process over the first four weeks than others. Examples include:

  • Particularly graphic or extreme incidents (such as terror attacks).
  • Incidents involving children, the vulnerable, or someone familiar to us.
  • Events which take place on an otherwise pleasant day (such as a birthday, or other celebration).
  • Incidents or scenes which did not make sense or which conflict with our world view.

It is common to experience a series of challenging incidents, one after the other. Healthy processing of such incidents is essential in policing to reset the stress response, to file events as past, and to move on to the next job.

As the nature of crime changes, so do the different types of trauma exposure police might experience. It is well recognised that different types of trauma exposure call on us to adopt different coping strategies: to prepare ourselves for what we are about to experience, to manage our response to the experience, to make sense of what we experience, and to move on.

Here, we offer tips and coping strategies which may be helpful for different people at different times for different types of incidents.

One example of where trauma exposure type can be a risk to wellbeing is with the case of Body Worn Video. If an officer's role typically involves an active response to an incident, their brain may well become accustomed to preparing for active engagement during exposure.

Subsequent exposure to passive Body Work Video footage (especially from another officer's point of view) could be unexpectedly distressing, because the sense of being able to do something about the situation has been taken away. The officer in question may then experience feelings of helplessness which they did not at the actual scene.

The first 24 hours

The first 48 hours

The first month

The first 3 months

The first year

When to seek further help and where to go

If you are experiencing difficulties as a result of trauma impact (including investigative procedures) and you would like some support, contact your EAP, Police Care UK, Police Federation rep, or your Staff Association.

Start a conversation. Don't go it alone.

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