Pulse Nightclub responder opens up about PTSD among police officers

Orlando tragedy. Gay colors heart shape on black background.

Pulse Nightclub responder opens up about PTSD among police officers

Gerry Realin, 37, was one of many who responded to the tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016. That night, he spent four hours tending to the nightclub’s victims. Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder—items such as black Sharpies or white sheets remind him of the time he spent listing the victims’ names and covering them with sheets, which leads to a downward spiral of upset and depression.

At least one other officer has publicly discussed his post-Pulse shooting PTSD diagnosis, but there are likely many more who suffer privately. “I’ve talked to some of the officers and they’re pretty traumatized by what they saw,” said City Commissioner Patty Sheehan. Sheehan has heard from first responders and mental health workers that there are even more officers who are unwilling to open up about PTSD because they don’t want to be seen as weak or unfit for their job.

It is estimated that 28 percent of mass shooting survivors will develop PTSD. Due to the unwillingness of first responders to come forward, there isn’t a lot of data on PTSD rates—it is estimated, however, that it could range from 7 to 19 percent in police officers.

Ron Clark is a retired officer who works with Badge of Life, a police suicide-prevention group who discussed how police officers who were suffering from PTSD or mental instability were told to “suck it up.” Instead of talking about it, which could likely result in getting fired, they often used alcohol, drugs or sex to cope.

Retired police officer Victor Torres has seen firsthand what happens when PTSD is untreated. “You leave work, have the weekend off and you come in Monday and hear about officer so-and-so committing suicide,” he said. “You wonder why. What were his issues?”

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