August 28, 2015
When Neil Shaw was a young man, his older brother, a patrol deputy/corporal, suffered a heart attack while trying to quell an unruly mob at Laguna Seca Raceway. As he lay on the ground in need of medical attention, bystanders chanted “Die, pig, die.” Bobby Shaw, a father of two girls, passed away that day, and he hadn’t yet entered his 40s.
Speaking Aug. 20, 2015, to about 20 Shasta County law enforcement officers from various agencies, Shaw explained that traumatic experience sowed the early seeds of the accumulative Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder he developed over 20 years working as a Monterey County Sheriff’s deputy. It also fed a general distrust of how the public perceives police officers.
“You go to enough domestic violence incidents, a few dead baby calls, some horrific accidents, and you’re expected to be there for people,” he said. “But you very rarely get a thank you for what you’re doing. Usually it’s a dirty look and ‘What are you doing here?!’”
Shaw, a Brave Faces advocate, was part of a day-long Crisis Intervention Training organized by NAMI and held at the Redding City Council chambers. The main focus of the training was to give officers more tools to effectively de-escalate incidents involving people experiencing a mental health crisis.
In his piece, however, Shaw explained how the extreme stress of the job can affect the officers’ mental health as well as how they interact with the public. After 20 years working as a deputy, Shaw developed symptoms of PTSD – negative thought intrusion, sleepless nights, hyper-vigilance and a quick temper – that eventually forced him to retire.
However, through therapy, a treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), prayer and other tools, Shaw learned to control his symptoms and is living a happy life as a real estate investor, painter and step-dad to two step-daughters and a step-son. He believes every department should have a staff psychologist to help officers process traumatic incidents and difficult experiences that are part of the everyday job. If he had more mental health assistance, he believes he could have lasted longer on the force.
“You have to go to this CIT training, you have to go to the shooting range to keep up your firearm skills, you have required trainings and getting your mental health squared away should be no different,” he said. “In law enforcement, we experience an inordinate amount of stress, and we can’t ignore it any longer.”
Two Presentations in One Day Show the Many (Brave) Faces of PTSD
Later that evening, Brave Faces speakers and shared stories about their own experiences with PTSD with the One Safe Place Volunteer and Advocacy Training Course through which about 30 women are learning to be volunteers who staff the organization’s hotline and work with clients who’ve experienced domestic violence.
Wolf shared how she grew up in a “normal, middle class family”, but she suffered sexual violation as a child. The shame of it led her to start drinking at a young age as a form of self-medication, and she began a lifelong pattern of bonding with abusers. Ripley explained that she found success as a public relations professional, but her untreated PTSD caught up with her. She was overcome by depression and suicidal thoughts, so she turned to suicide prevention hotlines for help.
“I’ll never know the people who were on the other end of the telephone who saved my life, but I can repay them by sharing my gratitude with you,” Wolf told the class.
Eventually, Wolf found help through Alcoholics Anonymous and the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, and she’s working on a documentary that chronicles her recovery.
“One of the most powerful things (hotline operators) did for me was say my name,” Wolf said. “There is something so validating about someone saying your name and acknowledging your existence.”
After Wolf, Brave Faces speaker Carrie Diamond spoke about how she developed PTSD after suffering a sexual assault in the military as she prepared to go to war with her fellow soldiers. Trying to report the crime to her superior officers was almost worse than the rape, she said, because of how she was treated with suspicion.
Military sexual trauma (MST) is a “mind bleep” Diamond said that differs from some other sexual assaults because it represents a betrayal of the comradery the military is supposed to represent.
“You’re supposed to have each other’s backs, and your spending all this time training so you can rely on each other, knowing your lives are in each other’s hands,” she said. “And then when you lose that because of MST, it’s just heartbreaking. All I had wanted to do from a young age was serve in the military, and that was taken away from me.”
When she returned home from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the symptoms of her PTSD mushroomed, and she also suffered symptoms relating to bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder. She says she believe they were all rooted in her untreated trauma.
However, with incredible support from her family, clinical services from the Redding Veterans Affairs clinic and diving into community activism, Diamond has learned to manage her illnesses and is currently working as a Community Health Advocate for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency and is the Board President of the NorCal OUTreach Project, a non-profit dedicated to providing services to the Redding area LGBTQ community.
One of the volunteers wrote about the training: “I believe that this is a powerful project that will help to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Very powerful and moving work!”
In just one day, the Brave Faces speakers discussed the many different sides of PTSD and showed that it’s not just a problem for war veterans. Anyone who has suffered a trauma they’re not equipped to handle can suffer from PTSD, but it doesn’t have to be a debilitating condition. Many treatments exist that are very effective, and some even say they come out of the PTSD fire as stronger people.
To book Shaw, Diamond or Wolf as a speaker for your organization, class or group, contact Christopher Diamond at firstname.lastname@example.org.