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9 Startling Effects Job stress has on Law Enforcement Officers

9 Startling Effects Job stress has on Law Enforcement Officers

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 Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT

By Brian Humenu  MS|CJA  COPJOT

Released: February 21, 2024

5-minute read or less

 

 

Does working as a police officer subject one to hazardous health risks? Yes, No, Maybe?

Is there enough studies and data out there that I can say working as a police officer can lead stress, mental health problems and even death and suicide?

For many years now I have thought to myself why isn't there warning labels on the employment applications for law enforcement officers? 

Something like "Warning, the job you are applying for can be hazardous to your physical, mental health or both." 

It would only make sense right because everywhere you go there are warning labels and signs letting you know of potential hazards.

When I was in graduate school studying towards a master's degree in Criminal Justice Administration the focus (or meat and potatoes) of the program, like many universities, was on research and writing.

Early in my first semester I made a conscious decision to study the problems associated with stress in policing.

There was a valid reason for my decision.

You see, in the agency that I work for we had the very unfortunate circumstance of having 2 police officers take their own lives within 8 years of each other.

And..

They were both great men, valuable police officers and excellent co-workers. They looked and acted no different from anyone else I worked with at the time. 

I worked and lived through both of their tragic deaths and decided that I personally had the ability through grad school to look into the phenomenon of stress in law enforcement.

For many in the law enforcement profession that have had co-workers who have either taken their own lives or have watched the train completely derail from the tracks per se, it's hard not to see the pink elephant in the room. 

For non law enforcement reading this, the pink elephant is the correlation between being a law enforcement officer and stress that leads to mental health problems including suicide.

A portion of this is article came from the research that I had done in grad school using peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

With that said, let's dive further into this article!

In 2012, The National Library of Medicine released a research article that studied suicide in small police departments. This was my go to article in grad school. You can find it here and I cited it at the bottom of this article if you want to read the entire article. 

According to (Police Suicide in Small Departments: A Comparative Analysis, 2012)  49% of police departments in the U.S. employ fewer than 10 full time officers.

The authors of this journal article surveyed 298 small police departments to see if any had police officers who in the past 10 years had committed suicide.

86 or 29% of the departments surveyed claimed they had one or more officers commit suicide. Of the 86 police departments, 74 or 91% had reported that the means was by the use of a firearm.

If that doesn't strike a chord I don't know what else will. 

Introduction:

Policing is a profession that demands resilience and mental fortitude, yet the realities of the job expose law enforcement officers to a sea of stressors that can have profound effects on their well-being.

The profession of policing, inherently charged with maintaining public order and safety, demands a unique set of skills and a steadfast commitment to many including the communities they serve, their co-workers and their families to name a few. 

In the complex world of law enforcement, where duty and danger collide, police officers navigate a very difficult landscape filled with challenges that extend beyond the physical demands of the job. Central to this specific criminal justice terrain is the common and often silent opponent – stress.

The invisible weight carried by those who don the uniform is a topic of mega importance, one that demands our close attention, understanding, and proactive efforts to mitigate its impacts.

To comprehend the depth of police stress is to recognize that it extends far beyond the confines of the station, precinct or barracks. It seeps into the homes and personal lives of officers, influencing their relationships, decision-making, and overall well-being.

It is an invisible opponent that requires a sophisticated understanding, a serious intervention, and a commitment to cultivating a resilient and supportive environment within law enforcement agencies themselves.

This article dives into the various dimensions of stress in police work, examining the 4 types of stressors that police officers face, the impact on their mental health, and finally strategies to mitigate and manage stress within law enforcement.

Causes of Stress in Law Enforcement

causes of stress in law enforcement

Stress in law enforcement is a pervasive and multifaceted challenge, encompassing a range of physical, emotional, and psychological demands inherent in the profession.

The unique nature of police work exposes police officers to constant pressure, critical decision-making, and exposure to trauma.

The cumulative effect of these stressors can lead to adverse consequences for officers' mental health, affecting their overall job performance and personal lives.

What are the 4 types of Police Stress?

Operational Stress

Operational stress arises from the demands and challenges inherent in law enforcement duties.

High-risk situations, the potential for violence, and the unpredictability of the job contribute to acute stress responses during critical incidents. The adrenaline-fueled nature of operational stress can have both short-term and long-term impacts on an officer's mental well-being. 

Organizational Stress

Organizational stress is linked to factors within the police department itself. Issues such as rigid hierarchies, inadequate resources, and bureaucratic hurdles can contribute to chronic stress among officers.

Poor organizational support and a lack of resources including personnel can heighten the strain on law enforcement professionals, impacting their job satisfaction and overall mental health.

Worried about leadership and organizational stress? Be sure to put aside a few minutes and read my article on the 7 Powerful Police Leadership Books the Brass are Reading Today.

Interpersonal Stress

Interpersonal stress stems from challenges in relationships, both within the police force and with the broader community.

Balancing professional responsibilities with personal connections can be challenging, leading to strained relationships and potential conflicts.

The nature of police work can create emotional exhaustion and burnout, impacting officers' ability to form and maintain meaningful connections.

External Stressors

External stressors encompass societal factors that impact law enforcement officers. Media scrutiny, public perception, and changes in legislative landscapes contribute to the external pressures faced by police officers.

The constant exposure to public scrutiny can affect officers' mental health and well-being, adding an additional layer to the complex web of stressors.

Effects of Stress on Police Officers?

The toll of police stress on mental health is significant and far-reaching. Chronic exposure to stressors can lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health challenges.

If stress is left unaddressed, these conditions can affect job performance, lead to burnout, and contribute to a pervasive culture of silence around mental health issues within law enforcement.

The impact of police stress on mental health affects law enforcement officers in a multitude of ways.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Exposure to traumatic incidents, such as violent crimes, accidents, or life-threatening situations, can lead to the development of PTSD among law enforcement officers.

According to (Heyman M, Dill J, Douglas R. (2018) PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers have been found to be as much as 5 times higher than the rates within the civilian population, which causes these first responders to commit suicide at a considerably higher rate.

Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and emotional numbness.

Anxiety and Depression

Chronic exposure to stressors in law enforcement can contribute to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. The constant demand for vigilance, coupled with the potential for violence and danger, can lead to persistent feelings of apprehension and sadness.

Burnout

Prolonged exposure to stress without adequate coping mechanisms can result in burnout.

Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Officers experiencing burnout may feel overwhelmed, detached, and disengaged from their work.

Substance Abuse

According to Hilliard J. (Sep. 14, 2019.)Law enforcement officers may turn to substance abuse as a maladaptive coping mechanism for dealing with stress.

The pressures of the job, coupled with the stigma surrounding mental health, may lead some officers to self-medicate, contributing to substance use disorders.

Sleep Disorders

Irregular and demanding work schedules, coupled with the psychological toll of the job, can disrupt officers' sleep patterns.

Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep deprivation, can exacerbate stress and negatively impact overall mental well-being.

Relationship Strain

The interpersonal stressors inherent in law enforcement, such as the need to balance work responsibilities with personal relationships, can strain officers' connections with family and friends.

The emotional toll of the job may affect communication, intimacy, and overall relationship satisfaction.

Suicide Risk

Law enforcement officers face an elevated risk of suicide, often attributed to the cumulative effects of stress, trauma, and the stigma surrounding mental health within the profession. Addressing mental health concerns and reducing stigma is critical to mitigating this risk.

Impact on Professional Performance

Police stress can impact an officer's professional performance, affecting decision-making, attention to detail, and overall job effectiveness.

This, in turn, may lead to increased job dissatisfaction and a decline in the quality of service provided to the community.

Addressing the impact of police stress on mental health requires a comprehensive approach that includes providing access to mental health resources, promoting a supportive organizational culture, and fostering an environment that encourages open discussions about mental well-being.

Prioritizing mental health within law enforcement is not only essential for the individuals who serve but also contributes to the overall effectiveness and resilience of police departments.

Dealing with Stress as a Police Officer

Dealing with job stress as a police officer is essential for maintaining mental and emotional well-being while navigating the challenges inherent in law enforcement.

Here are several strategies that police officers often employ to manage and mitigate stress:

1. Seeking Support: Establishing a strong support network is crucial. This includes maintaining open lines of communication with colleagues, supervisors, and friends who understand the unique stressors of the job.

Sharing experiences and seeking advice from peers can provide valuable perspectives and emotional support.

2. Counseling and Therapy: Many police departments offer counseling services or access to mental health professionals.

dealing with stress as a police officer

Seeking therapy can provide a confidential space to discuss job-related stress, process traumatic events, and develop coping strategies for managing emotional challenges.

3. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Incorporating mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation, can be effective in reducing stress levels.

These techniques help officers stay grounded, manage anxiety, and enhance their ability to remain calm in high-pressure situations.

4. Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity is a proven stress reliever. Engaging in regular exercise not only promotes physical health but also releases endorphins, the body's natural mood elevators.

Whether it's running, weightlifting, or participating in team sports, staying active is crucial for stress management.

5. Establishing Work-Life Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is challenging but essential. Officers should prioritize time for personal activities, hobbies, and spending quality time with family and friends. Creating a separation between work and personal life helps prevent burnout and promotes overall well-being.

6. Setting Realistic Expectations: Acknowledging that certain aspects of the job are beyond an officer's control is vital. Setting realistic expectations and recognizing that perfection is unattainable can help reduce self-imposed stress.

Learning to manage expectations, both internally and externally, is a valuable skill in law enforcement.

7. Taking Breaks and Time Off: Officers should make use of available breaks and take advantage of vacation time to recharge.

police officer job stress

A brief respite from the demands of the job allows for mental and emotional rejuvenation, preventing cumulative stress buildup.

8. Internalizing a Sense of Purpose: Reminding oneself of the inherent nobility of the policing profession and the positive impact officers make on their communities can instill a sense of purpose.

Internalizing the value of the work being done can provide motivation during challenging times.

Ways to mitigate stress in law enforcement

The camaraderie within police departments plays a pivotal role in dealing with stress. While understanding that the bond is important it is also best to know that not all law enforcement officers are created equal. 

They come from different backgrounds with no two having experienced the same life paths. 

As a leader you need to have the ability to identify emotional and mental health problems with members of your staff and your staff has to be trained in identifying the same in line officers.  

Let’s explore some important avenues to try and mitigate stress in law enforcement.  

Mental Health Resources

Prioritizing mental health resources within law enforcement agencies is critical. Establishing confidential counseling services, peer support programs, and access to mental health professionals can provide officers with the necessary tools to cope with stressors and seek help when needed.

Peer Support Programs

Peer support programs foster a sense of camaraderie among officers, creating a supportive environment where they can share experiences, discuss challenges, and seek advice from colleagues who understand the unique stresses of the job.

Peer support can play a pivotal role in normalizing discussions around mental health.

Training and Education

Comprehensive training and education on stress management, resilience, and recognizing signs of mental health issues are essential components of addressing police stress.

police officer job stresss

Providing officers with the skills and knowledge to navigate stressors can empower them to maintain their mental well-being throughout their long careers.

Holistic Wellness Initiatives

Holistic wellness initiatives that encompass physical, mental, and emotional well-being can contribute to a healthier work environment.

Incorporating fitness programs, mindfulness practices, and stress-reduction techniques into the daily lives of law enforcement professionals promotes overall resilience and enhances coping mechanisms.

Breaking the Stigma

Addressing police stress requires dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health within law enforcement.

Fostering a culture that encourages open discussions about mental well-being, promotes seeking help, and normalizes the importance of self-care can contribute to a more resilient and supportive police force.

The Role of Leadership

Leadership within law enforcement plays a pivotal role in addressing and preventing police stress.

Establishing a culture of support, prioritizing mental health resources, and leading by example in destigmatizing mental health discussions are critical steps leaders can take to create a healthier and more resilient police force.

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 About the Author

Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

You can find out more about Brian and the COPJOT story on the ABOUT US page.

Affiliate Disclosure

COPJOT is supported by its audience. If you make a purchase through links on this site I may earn a small affiliate commission. Enough to buy myself a small coffee and I want to thank you in advance. 

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References

  1. Heyman M, Dill J, Douglas R. (2018.) The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders. Ruderman Family Foundation.                                                                                                           
  2. Hilliard J. (Sep. 14, 2019.) New Study Shows Police at Highest Risk for Suicide of Any Profession. Addiction Center.                                                           
  3. Violanti JM, Mnatsakanova A, Burchfiel CM, Hartley TA, Andrew ME. Police suicide in small departments: a comparative analysis. Int J Emerg Ment Health. 2012;14(3):157-62.

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