KAKE On Your Side: PTSD in law enforcement

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

When we think of PTSD or stress from a traumatic event, we think of officers, firefighters and the military.

But trauma can impact everyone.

KAKE News on Your Side Investigates the help Wichita police provide for their officers and what we can learn from them.

The burden of PTSD can sometimes be too much to bear, and with millions of sufferers and the rate of suicide on the rise, we can all learn a few lessons on how to cope from a reliable source: the Wichita Police Department.

Our first responders see it all: the death, the abuse, the forgotten.

To many, these men and women are our toughest citizens, but this constant trauma can be devastating to them.

Sergeant Steven Yarberry was just a rookie when he fired his weapon on a cold December night in 1997.

"It's not natural to come to work and say, 'Hey I'm going to go kill someone today.' It spins your world out of control," said Yarberry.

But Yarberry, like most officers back then, operated by a "tough it out" mentality. He was cleared to go back to work within days.

"I wasn't ready, I was a mess. I forced myself into it," said Yarberry.

Ignoring the symptoms of trauma can have devastating effects on first responders.

"It's part of the job that does it to us," said Yarberry. "A lot of times they (first responders) will have relationship problems, alcohol problems... but where did that all start out from?"

But if you think PTSD is something only first responders or military members experience, think again.

Two-hundred twenty-three million Americans experience trauma.

Of those, 44 million have PTSD--that's 15 times the population of Kansas.

"Most people who've experienced trauma start to wonder, 'Why am I struggling to sleep, or why am I thinking about this over and over again?'"

Stacey Winter is the CEO of EMPAC, a company that provides therapy to first responders.

These are the symptoms Winter says to look for: sleeplessness, avoidance, hyper-sensitivity and flashbacks.

"Making sure generally you're focused own your own health and wellness-eating right, sleeping right, layering in all those protective factors-friends, family, resources is the way you can probably limit the impact of trauma," said Winter.

The Wichita Police Department has responded to its own officers' cries for help.

Sgt. Yarberry runs the Critical Incident Stress Management Team.

This group of officers shows up at our City's most troubling scenes, like child abuse cases and even the recent murder of Deputy Kunze.

"We give them things to do because their adrenaline has skyrocketed and we talk them about exercise and good eating to bring that adrenaline down. We also facilitate group debriefings. Everybody spills it out on the table. then when they leave... it doesn't mean the trauma goes away and sometimes can put it to rest at that point," said Sgt. Yarberry.

Yarberry says to talk about the event or get professional help.

It's advice he wishes someone had given to him all those years ago.

"I can stand up there and tell my story. Ten to fifteen years ago, I probably couldn't have. But it'll never go away. I try to use it as a positive. This is something I want to do to maybe help somebody else," said Yarberry.