Monitoring the Mental Health of Law Enforcement Officers: Keeping Track and Moving Forward

There are a number of different studies that have tracked different aspects of mental health among police officers in different regions in the United States. In fact, there is even a study to identify and address the gaps that currently exist in studies on law enforcement mental health.

As we move into 2017, it is imperative that we have evidence-based research that supports how we begin to improve conditions for police officers on the streets and in the department. Identifying stressors is the first step, and removing any barriers to mental health treatment and wellness support is the next.

Stressors

Across these studies, a number of stressors were identified in various departments across the country, including:

  • Consequences perceived as punishment for so-called “minor infractions”
  • Supervisors that micromanage staff
  • Fear of being “de-gunned”
  • Perceived lack of control over organizational rules and function or a perceived lack of concern for officers by supervisors
  • Communication problems with people in communications
  • Internal communication problems, especially stressful in life-threatening situations
  • Poor sleep hygiene, sometimes leading to falling asleep behind the wheel while on the job

The larger the department, the more likely it was that a large amount of stress originated in-house due to a feeling of lack of control over day-to-day life on the job, according to research.

Mental Health Help

High levels of stress can lead to significant mental health issues, especially in a job where the individual routinely faces life-threatening situations and is exposed to trauma. Some studies demonstrated that high levels of stress lead to “surface acting” or “fake responses” to coworkers and others during the course of the day in an effort to minimize stressful encounters. This is problematic because it can create a different kind of stress, decreasing honest discussion that can lead to solving underlying issues, and increasing resentment and disharmony among officers.

Other studies have supported the notion that stigma against getting mental health help may stop many officers from reaching out, especially men. Concerned about how their supervisors and coworkers will respond, many officers ignore the need for treatment rather than connecting with much-needed services that would improve their quality of life as well as their ability to do their job safely and healthfully.

A separate study cited in the article above found that depression and suicidal ideation were also prevalent among officers, especially male officers. It was noted that marriage seemed to play a significant role in the small study, in that police officers who were married were less likely to consider or commit suicide.

Similarly, a significant number of police officers were found to be living with some or all of the criteria of PTSD yet few discussed connecting with treatment in surveys.

The Path Forward

Though mental health issues and high levels of stress are an ongoing part of being a police officer, more and more departments are working to break down the stigma against getting mental health treatment and helping their officers heal from ongoing disorders.

Is it time for you to learn more about the mental health treatment services available to you?

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