Raising PTSD awareness one emoji at a time
'It’s not simply depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, or hyper-vigilance. It is all those things simultaneously, and it’s all the time.'
By Police1 Staff
COLUMBIA, S.C. – An informational one-pager describing PTSD, produced and published by the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. (RCSD) in South Carolina, is being disseminated far beyond the near-1,000 employee agency it was originally designed for nearly two years ago.
Developed by RCSD Special Deputy W. Thomas Smith Jr., a formerly deployed U.S. Marine infantryman and frequent writer for Police1, the PTSD one-pager features a series of emojis along with bulleted information describing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI).
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has directed those within RCSD to refer to the disorder as PTSI.
“PTSI or PTSD is a little understood mental and emotional malady that transcends into the physical,” said Smith. “Most people associate it with combat soldiers returning home from overseas deployments. And it is. But anyone who has endured extreme trauma, like that experienced in combat, is susceptible. And no one is more susceptible than a police officer or a deputy sheriff who constantly deal with stresses and traumas closely paralleling what soldiers experience overseas.”
Smith says his goal in developing the information sheet was to provide a means of communicating to others what PTSD or PTSI is.
“It’s not simply depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, or hyper-vigilance,” said Smith. “It is all those things simultaneously, and it’s all the time. It's like an adrenaline surge that never ends.
Though Smith developed his PTSD one-pager for RCSD where it has been regularly published in the department’s official in-house newsmagazine, the sheet has also been used by psychologists at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina, as well as several military veterans organizations.
The sheet was also shared with South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and South Carolina Floodwater Commission Chair Tom Mullikin who used the sheet in “fireside chat” discussions about PTSD during the 500-mile SC7 expedition across South Carolina in July.
“Though not all combat veterans suffer from PTSD, anyone who has ever been in a combat zone is certainly changed forever in some way,” said Col. Steve Vitali, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), former chair of the South Carolina-based Combat Veterans Support Group. “What Tom has created is not only simple to understand, but uniquely creative in terms of both educating outsiders who know nothing of PTSD and serving as an icebreaker for combat veterans, many of whom stubbornly refuse to open up to counselors much less anyone else who has never experienced what they have experienced. This would almost certainly be the same for police officers.”
Confronting PTSD or PTSI head-on has become part of RCSD culture. In January 2016, Sheriff Lott instituted a pre-PTSD conditioning program – CRITICAL INCIDENT AND PTSI AWARENESS TRAINING – which all RCSD deputies have since been required to undergo before any of them ever hit the street. The pre-PTSD program has become a model for other agencies nationwide.