Police and Mental Health

Law enforcement is there to enforce and protect the law. It’s easy to perceive them as invincible, but they too are not immune to the stress and mental toll of their jobs.

A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health associated officers’ stress with high levels of sleep disorders, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and suicide. Other studies identified that between 7 and 19 percent of active duty law enforcement have  PTSD, while MRI’s of police brains found a connection between experiencing trauma and a reduction in areas that play roles in emotional and cognitive decision-making, memory, fear and stress regulation.

The effects of being in law enforcement may be found in four critical conditions. They are:

  1. Chronic Stress: Law enforcement officers continuously deal with chronic stress. According to an analysis on realpolice.com, as a collective, lawmen have one of the nation’s highest suicide rates and its second largest divorce rates. Also, paradoxical expectations add to the stress. Officers must follow professional conduct while also critically assessing complex situations that don’t fit protocol.
  2. Family Life: The life of a law enforcement officer is hit closest to home, according to “Police Chief Magazine.” The job consists of long hours, canceled leaves and rotating shifts, which can cause police officers to miss important family milestones and events. Also, some officers may feel the need to expand their control at home, which may add to the burden.
  3. Isolation: A consequence of police work is social isolation. Realpolice.com states that police officers often identify with other officers because they feel awkward in non-law enforcement settings. Seeing people at their worst may accustom police officers that that world consists of nothing but bad guys. Besides, this nihilistic attitude can also develop an “us against them” mentality when working with the public.
  4. Public Perception: As noted in a March 2007 “Police One Magazine,” Martin Ferry, Ohio, Police Chief J. Pastche articulates that police officers are viewed differently than other professionals because of their authority role. It doesn’t help that there is a continuum of police stereotypes that include the “Mayberry” model, which shows officers as lackadaisical problem solvers, and the “Starsky and Hutch” model, which shows officers dealing with constant chaos

Mark Bond, a faculty member of criminal justice from the American Military University, writes eight ways that police officers can reduce fatigue. They include:

  1. Plan meals and make healthy choices, and stop eating high-calorie fast food.
  2. Plan vacation and downtime.
  3. See the doctor regularly for checkups.
  4. Share workload and reduce the amount of overtime.
  5. Live within financial means so that working a second job is not necessary.
  6. Create a practical exercise and meal plan.
  7. Create a “Patrol Buddy” program and make time to check on each other.
  8. Keep civilian friends away from the job. No work talk.