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New study finds most first responders experience trauma on the job

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - A new study found that many police officers and other first responders suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but only a fraction seek help.

Any call can turn dangerous or deadly in seconds, like when IMPD Officer Perry Renn was killed in 2014 responding to a call of shots fired.

It’s a loss few felt more than his partner.

“My partner, zone partner, Perry Renn ended up taking a run that I was supposed to take,” said IMPD Officer Derik Harper. “He ended up dying on that run.”

“He had a lot of survivor’s guilt,” said Officer Harper’s wife and fellow IMPD Officer Tamar Harper.

Both of the Harpers are IMPD veterans of seven years.

“I’m a police officer, he’s a police officer,” said Officer Tamar Harper. “I thought I would be able to understand to what level, but it affected him on an entirely different level.”

A new study found that guilt is not uncommon.

Data from the University of Phoenix shows that 85 percent of first responders experience a traumatic event on the job; 34 percent have a formal diagnosis of a mental health disorder; 10 percent have PTSD.

That same study found that only 39 percent of those affected sought help because many fear negative repercussions.

“We always tell them it’s ok to be ok, but then it’s ok not to be ok,” said Sgt. Aaron Snyder with IMPD’s Professional Development Office.

Within IMPD, the Professional Development Office first talks to officers after a trauma, then refers them to counselors if needed.

“They understand that this is a part of the job,” said Sgt. Snyder. “Our bodies, our brains are not made to see this kind of trauma.”

They address the day to day stress of the job, and larger concerns, like when a fellow officer is killed.

“You never wrap your mind around the people you care about, the people you work with actually being hurt,” said Officer Derik Harper. “That sucks worse than anything else.”

The Harpers say they’re proactive about keeping their family safe, and part of that is their mental health. They encourage others to do the same.

This year, U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young helped introduce the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act to help all law enforcement provide these services.

The bill passed the senate unanimously in May; it’s awaiting action in the House.