By Alex Junes-Ward
THE RICHLAND COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT. (RCSD) has produced and published an informational one-pager on PTSD that is being disseminated far beyond the near-1,000 employee agency it was originally designed for nearly two years ago.
Developed by RCSD Special Deputy and former U.S. Marine infantryman W. Thomas Smith Jr. [pictured with the PTSD one-pager], the PTSD one-pager features a series of emojis along with bulleted information describing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI).
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has directed those within RCSD refer to the disorder as PTSI.
“PTSI or PTSD is a little understood mental and emotional malady which transcends into the physical,” said Smith. “Most people associate it with combat soldiers returning home from overseas deployments. And it is. But anyone who has endured extreme trauma, like that experienced in combat, is susceptible. And no one is more susceptible than a police officer or a deputy sheriff who constantly deal with stresses and traumas closely paralleling what soldiers experience overseas.”
Smith says his goal in developing the information sheet was to provide a means of communicating to others what PTSD or PTSI is. “It’s not simply depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, or hyper-vigilance,” said Smith. “It is all those things simultaneously, and it’s all the time. It’s like an adrenaline surge that never ends.”
Though Smith developed his PTSD one-pager for RCSD where it has been regularly published in the department’s official in-house newsmagazine, the sheet has also been used by psychologists at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C. as well as several military veterans organizations, like Veteran One, the WLS Foundation, and the Northeast Columbia (S.C.) Combat Veterans Support Group. It was even shared with participants, including S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and S.C. Floodwater Commission Chairman Tom Mullikin, during the widely publicized SC7 expedition across South Carolina in July.
“Though not all combat veterans suffer from PTSD, anyone who has ever been in a combat zone is certainly changed forever in some way,” said Col. Steven B. Vitali, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), former chairman of the Northeast Columbia Combat Veterans Support Group. “What Tom has created is not only simple to understand, but uniquely creative in terms of both educating outsiders who know nothing of PTSD and serving as an icebreaker for combat veterans, many of whom stubbornly refuse to open up to counselors much less anyone else who has never experienced what they’ve experienced. This would almost certainly be the same for police officers.”
Confronting PTSD or PTSI head-on has become part of RCSD culture. In 2016, Lott instituted a pre-PTSD conditioning program – CRITICAL INCIDENT AND PTSI AWARENESS TRAINING – which all RCSD deputies have since been required to undergo before any of them ever hit the street. Lott’s pre-PTSD program was the first-of-its-kind established in the U.S., and has since become a model for other agencies, nationwide.
For more information about the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept., please visit rcsd.net.