Police and Coping With Stress

What Mental Health Challenges Are Police Officers Currently Facing?

Published on November 29, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Police officers have a distinct perspective of society, one which regularly entails seeing the darker sides of life. Even if most days on the job do not involve high-speed chases, being ambushed by armed vigilantes, struggling with those influenced by drug use, or other situations that may be a risk to their lives, it is true that at any time, one or more of these may occur. This requires police officers to be constantly vigilant and in a suspended state of stress, which can have long-term effects on their well-being.   

Including being exposed to tragedies and regular interactions with people in a crisis or who are hostile toward them, the stigma and obstacles around seeking mental health help also pose risks to the wellness of officers. 

Mental Health Concerns 

While training in the academy, most officers may already anticipate and accept the unique dangers and pressures of their chosen profession. They likely have type-A personalities with a strong drive and ability to take charge. If one does not naturally have this personality, the job often requires them to learn that skill. Officers are taught to walk into a room with a commanding presence and present themselves with a physical and mental toughness that shows others they mean business. Although this powerful outward presence is expected from officers, the stress of the job impacts many of them under the surface. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “compared to the general population, law enforcement report much higher rates of depression, PTSD, burnout, and other anxiety-related mental health conditions.” NAMI also reports that more police officers die from suicide than in the line of duty. 

Along with these serious mental health concerns, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act states that the effects of Post Traumatic Stress can also “increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, heart disease, and possibly stroke.” While this reveals what mental challenges police officers are facing, it’s essential to look at what may be contributing to these struggles outside of the daily stressors of the job. 

Stigma and Other Factors

Despite the intense demands their job has on their psyches, officers’ mental health needs can often be overlooked until a significantly traumatic event or negative behavior warrants a response. However, even when there may be proactive mental health resources available, many police officers avoid seeking help because of the perpetuated stigma associated with seeking emotional support. This stigma can cause officers to be extremely wary of seeking help out of the fear that they’d be seen as weak or unfit if somebody found out.

An additional concern is that seeking mental health assistance is associated with the jeopardization of an officer’s career. This includes possibly being taken off the street, being forced to turn in their weapon, or being reassigned to a desk job.

Addressing These Concerns

There are many available resources for officers depending on an agency’s location, the type of department, the interests of a department, the culture of a department, a department’s budget, and other factors. However, a lot can be done nationally to address mental health challenges specific to law enforcement. Here are some ways that can help fight the mental health battle taking place in law enforcement.

Annual Mental Health Checks 

When we think of health check-ups, we may think of our yearly patient visits with physicians or our semi-annual dental cleanings, which are both in place for routine health maintenance and early detection. Researchers suggest annual mental health check-ups can also be useful in mental health maintenance, prevention, and detection. This would be a proactive approach that would also help reduce the stigma if it is required for all officers. During these check-ups, officers would be able to voice any issues or concerns and learn some healthy tools to help cope with stress.  

Expanding Peer Counseling

Peer-led counseling is widely used in law enforcement agencies. The peer volunteers are able to understand the job and the stressors of those who seek support. Helping officers process their emotional reactions to anxieties from the job is important. This is also a way to make access to care relatively easy and convenient. However, not all agencies have this peer support program in place. It is essential to expand these programs to ensure all officers have access to these wellness services. Active police officers as well as retired law enforcement officers should be connected with the necessary resources. Just because someone retires does not mean all the stress and mental health challenges immediately go away. 

Privacy Considerations

One of the problems police officers face when trying to seek help concerns their privacy. Although many places ensure patient confidentiality, it is still a concern amongst officers that word will eventually get out, and they could potentially face work-related problems from it. Without officers feeling safe and secure about reaching out for help, this will continue to be an obstacle. 

Those who work in law enforcement often see the grimmer side of society, and because of this, they are at an increased risk for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and suicide. Police officers face many mental health challenges related to the job and often encounter stigmatization if they seek help. When someone needs emotional support, the last thing that should be in their way is shame and the possibility of jeopardizing their job. Finding ways to incorporate mental health resources in a way that reduces stigma is critical. Seeking help is not something to be ashamed of or even viewed as a weakness. It can be empowering knowing you are taking charge of your mental health. First Responder Wellness is here to provide confidential and trusted care to help you on your path towards better mental health and well-being. If you are a police officer in need of mental health care, contact us at (888) 743-0490.