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Helpful Hints Neurotic Disorders

Bruce Rodgers

In handling someone with overwhelming anxiety, it is important to provide reassurance in order to help that person regain control over panic. It is not helpful for police officers to attempt to persuade the person that the anxiety or panic is unrealistic or unwarranted.

Even if officers perceive the reasons for the anxiety and consider them ridiculous, they must recognize that they are not ridiculous to the person experiencing the anxiety. Instead of belittling the person’s symptoms, they should offer reassurance and try to remove the person to a protective situation. Then they can begin to talk with the person about the anxious feelings.

When police officers encounter someone who is depressed, they should be alert to the seriousness of this condition. Even though they may not perceive any realistic cause for the depression, they should try to identify with the person’s depression by recognizing how painful it must be and by empathizing with the person’s pain. After all, it is not how the officers see it but how the depressed person sees it that will determine what that person will do.

If the depression appears so great that a suicide attempt is possible, the person should be placed in a hospital immediately and watched very carefully until the depression has lifted. However, a word of caution: Many depressed individuals commit suicide just when they seem to be improving. It is thought that this false improvement is actually due to the neurotic’ having made a final decision to commit suicide. Having done so, the person is able to put on a happy face because he or she knows that all worries will soon be over. This happy face sometimes fools even the professional, who may decide that the danger has passed.

Officers who have responsibility for prisoners should know that many depressed persons are encountered in jails. The stress of incarceration is likely to precipitate a depressive neurosis. Officers must be alert for depressed inmates so that they can make a judgment regarding suicidal potential. They should always be especially sensitive to the inmate who, several days before, was profoundly depressed but now has undergone a remarkable mood alteration unrelated to any significant external event, such as imminent release. This person may have also made the decision that life is no longer worth living. Observant officers should then summon appropriate medical help.

If officers encounter someone with severe obsessional thinking or a ritualistic compulsive behavior pattern, it is important for them to recognize that this person is disturbed and should not be assumed to be “crazy.” It is easy to assume the latter, since compulsive acts in particular are often nonsensical and funny to the casual observer.

As professional observers of behavior, officers should recognize these obsessive thought patterns and compulsive acts for what they are: symptoms of an emotional disturbance. Knowing this, they will be able to guide the person toward a therapeutic setting. Because of the seeming irrationality of the behavior (and in most instances its apparent harmlessness), it is often easier to ignore it rather than to take the trouble to refer the person to an appropriate facility. However, it may prove to be rewarding to suggest a referral because neurotic persons are generally very receptive to the idea of seeking help. They are in full contact with reality and recognize that their obsessional thoughts and compulsive behavior are symptoms of illness. Their ambivalence stops them from seeking help on their own, but the officer’s influence will generally help them overcome it.

When officers encounter someone who is experiencing an unreasonable fear (phobia) in relationship to an actual situation, they also can help by reducing the person’s panic through supportive intervention.

This article is an excerpt from Psychological Aspects of Police Work: An Officer’s Guide to Street Psychology by former police officer and federal agent, Bruce A. Rodgers, PhD.

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