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Positive Personality Traits May Protect Police at High Risk for PTSD

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It is seen that police officers who are repeatedly exposed traumatic experiences like natural disaster suffer from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A new study that studied police officers in the New Orleans area during and after the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina concluded that positive personal traits like resilience, satisfaction with life and a grateful disposition may help shield police officers from symptoms of (PTSD) not only in the aftermath of a disaster but for years to come.

The study was published online in a special edition of the journal Stress and Health in December with the title – “Positive Psychological Factors are associated with Lower PTSD Symptoms in Police Officers: Post Hurricane Katrina.

Researcher John Violanti, PhD, professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo and an internationally known expert on police stress said that in their study it was observed that the symptoms of PTSD were significantly less in police officers that exhibited the positive personality traits like resilience, satisfaction with life and gratitude. He added that this observation also hold true among officers who did not work during the hurricane. They were however, excluded from the study.


Violanti opined that the reason why this study is significant is that it helps us in understanding how positive factors are associated with reduced PTSD symptoms, and  thus can aid us is forming treatment modalities for PTSD.

For the study, the researchers received a grant from ˜The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which is also a part of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Violanti along with various NIOSH researchers are the authors of the research.

According to the authors there are many factors that influence the severity of the symptoms like severity of the disaster, degree of exposure, personal losses and even how one behaved during the event. The police officers, who worked after Hurricane Katrina happened, faced a number of physical and psychological challenges. They had challenging tasks at hand to carry out like – crowd control, looting control, rescuing victims in flooded areas, body retrieval. In many cases, they faced open hostility from the citizens even they were trying to help them.

Statistics show that as many as 50 percent of the population in the United States has experienced at least one traumatic event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or other terrifying situations. Violanti remarked that about 5 to 6 percent of these people eventually develop PTSD while others cope pretty well. He added that police officers typically face more traumatic incidences than the general public and hence PTSD is more likely among them. About 10 to 19 percent of police officers develop PTSD.

Through this study, the researchers tried to find out if personal qualities found to protect the general public from the symptoms of PTSD also lessened its symptoms in this high-risk population.

The positive qualities that were considered included resilience, satisfaction with life, post-traumatic personal growth, grateful disposition, prosocial behaviors and other qualities. Of the 114 participants in the study, 84 were male and 30 female who worked in the New Orleans area as officers during and after Hurricane Katrina. Violanti remarked that it was seen that an experience of posttraumatic personal growth did not appear to mitigate PTSD in the study participants while the other three traits in considered did.

He also offered some further insights of the study which showed a decrease in the resilience score as the level of alcohol intake increased in the officers. The scores of gratitude were highest among African American officers, followed closely by Caucasians, with the lowest scores reported by Hispanic, Native American and Japanese officers. Those officers who had high and very high life satisfaction were seen to have fewer PTSD symptoms.

The authors concluded that further longitudinal research is needed to assess how protective factors can protect or reduce the occurrence of negative conditions that result when exposed to traumatic events.