Blue Flower

Key observations from the presentation by Dr. Jessica Miller at the PTSD conference, 2017

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  • Since 2002, there has been a focus globally within neuropsychology to understand not only how the brain responds to specific situations, but also how it files memories away. Thanks to recent breakthroughs, we have learned more about the human brain in the last fifteen years than the rest of human history.
  • For example, we now know that the brain has the ability to reorganise itself and create new circuits in response to our environment, and even in response to our thoughts. Given the right conditions, this helps reduce the stress build-up that is often attributed to situations like burnout.
  • The Amygdala, part of the limbic system, is the bodies ‘alarm bell’ that goes off when something isn’t right. It is responsible for the fight or flight response, blood pressure, digestion, hyper-arousal and vigilance. It is, in essence, our response system to stress, fear and trauma.
  • Meanwhile, the Hippocampus is the part that contextualises information and commits trauma to memory. This is the part of the brain that turns the current into the past and manages the recall process.
  • Whilst some people are pre-disposed to problems around this, the challenge for the police service is due to its nature, policing leads to the Amygdala being in a constant state of arousal. This can mean the brain has difficulty contextualising stress and turning it into memories.
  • Behaviour is often characterised by a re-living of incidents with mental images and sounds, avoidance and a sense of numbness, irritability, a heightened sense of alertness, lack of sleep, and an inability to recognise humour.
  • Things seen as coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and SSRI antidepressants often compound the problem because the individual simply carries on as before.
  • With budget challenges making policing a more responsive model (rather than proactive), and the number of traumatic incidents attended in quick succession on the rise, there is a greater risk of harm due to repeated exposure to trauma.
  • There are ways to combat this, and the answer lies in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain interrupts stress and fear response, as well as being responsible for willpower and decisionmaking. It also looks after our ability for compassion and humour.
  • By stimulating the pre-frontal cortex, we increase the ability to interrupt the stress response, and therefore improve the brains capacity to convert stress into memory. This not only reduces the risk of post-traumatic stress, but also increases our ability to function and better evaluate decisions.
  • There are resources already available on how to do this, but are not routinely available within the police service.


This page details one of the fantastic contributions from the Police Charity, the Police Dependents' Trust. CEO Gill Scott-Moore is, and has remained, committed to the welfare of those involved in policing, supporting a huge number of people across the entire country. All of us involved in policing owe a huge debt to her, and her superb team. 

The Police Dependants’ Trust has today published the recommendations from the conference on post-traumatic stress in frontline policing held in March this year in Lancashire.

The conference, which was attended by 116 delegates from police forces across the UK, heard from experts in police trauma and neuropsychology as well presentations from the NHS and military about initiatives available to other professions.

The conference follows on from the Injury on Duty report published by the charity last year which highlighted that whilst half of all injuries on duty in the last five years included some level of psychological injury, not enough was being done to treat it. Charity CEO Gill Scott-Moore said, “With 48 different responses in 48 forces across the UK, and no joined up strategy, injured officers are not getting the psychological support they so desperately need. The impact this is having on their long-term health is only getting worse, but the level of engagement at this conference shows that there is a real desire to change.”

Over 50 recommendations were put forward by delegates, with the need for resilience techniques to be routinely available, the training of supervisors to recognise and respond effectively to those experiencing trauma, screening in high-risk roles, and a Nationally agreed care pathway for treatment all prioritised for immediate action.

The report recommendations, which can be downloaded from the Police Dependants’ Trust website, have been submitted to the review into Mental health and wellbeing currently being conducted by the College of Policing.

Responding to the report, Chief Constable and College of Policing representative Andy Rhodes said, “The PDT conference has thrown the gauntlet down by demanding we recognise exposure to trauma has always been part of the policing experience. We must now listen to those who live and breathe it as well as the experts who are committed to developing the research.

I believe we have taken the first steps to breaking the stigma with the first conference and now this publication………we can now start to talk about it openly without any fear. Trauma is part of policing ……… it’s why we are here and so we must re-frame our attitude and strive to move from a crisis response to a preventative one.”


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