Stress plays a part in the lives of everyone. That’s the way our body reacts to any changes that require an adjustment to a response. Police Officers are in a position of authority and making split second life or death decisions on a regular basic making the stress level be at the higher percentage than other jobs. The stress relate to that can have a major negative impact on their lives. According to the Cross study performed to Police Officers theirs four categories that fall under stress level. One of the biggest problems for officers is that stress can go unrecognized and don’t take the time to seek treatment.
Stress is a silent disease that can be harmful to us and people that surround us. Police officers face many different types of stress that are work related. According to the National Institute of Justice the following are work related and individual factors that are likely to cause stress and fatigue in law enforcement officers. The theoretical models used in the research have been The Demand Control Social Support model (Karasek and Theorell, 1990) and the Effort Rewards Imbalance model (Siegrist, 1998).These models state workers experience stress and excessive work demands with little to no control over them and the imbalance between the effort invested in their job and the rewards obtained in return. This component is called psychosocial risk factor and its contributions are poor management in the department leading to many officers having to do excessive overtime, work overload or excessive work demands frequent rotating shifts, regular changes in duties, broken equipment and constant rotation of partners or working alone. According to Velasco “Women police officers are probably under more stress than male officers”. Female officers may experience even higher levels of stress due to lack of social support, negative attitudes of male officers, overcoming perceived barriers that they aren’t “equipped” or fit to do the job and sexual harassment on the job and have more responsibilities to worry about at home.
These are some of the work-related issues that can put the officer under stress and continues exposure to which it can cause chronic stress or burnout. The burnout effect refers to a chronic stress and one of the big contributors to police burnout is vicarious trauma according to the “Experiencing Burnout” article. Vicarious trauma is also known as second hand trauma and it comes from witnessing traumatic events and interacting with the people who have faced severe trauma. Just like any other job untreated stress can lead to serious consequences mentally, emotionally and physically. Police officers have a high risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, digestive disorders weight gain and severe headaches. These can affect the individual officer and those whom the officer has daily contact including family and friends. Stress contributes not only a physical disorder but also emotional problems.
Post-traumatic stress Disorder is a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. This can lead to flashbacks, nightmares depression, excessive drinking, insomnia, anxiety and guilt. According to the crime report research study about 17%of policemen experience symptoms of PSTD compared to the general population. One of the officers said “When I became a cop in 1985, we were told nothing should bother you, just keep moving” and that’s how many officers deal with PTSD because their told to toughen up and grab a drink after work. Another contribution to PTSD it leads to obesity respiratory problems and many more health issues. Last is the substance use disorder and going back to the officer that was told to toughen up and grab a drink this can become an alcohol and drug abused to cope with the PSTD. Mentally drained can be a serious problem and according to the Reducing and Preventing it article police officers reported that cynicism and suspiciousness can also contribute to the high levels of stress. Officers having to deal with many of these issues for a long period of time can lead to the lazy syndrome effect on that officer or early retirement. (Talavera-Velasco).
The stress that was built has a negative effect even when the officers are off duty. They have an emotional detachment from various aspects of daily life because it becomes difficult to deal with any more stress involving extra activities. The percentage of marital problems for example divorce, extramarital affairs and domestic violence is higher for police officers. Being marry to a police officer has its pros and good cons and their partner also develop a stress disorder from fear of having to think about death or a serious injury as part of their partner job.
Suicide has been an issue that’s build from chronic stress the most recent data suggest that the rates of police suicide have sharply increased during the past few decades. Data showed that 23% of male and 25% of female officers reported more suicidal thoughts than the general population (13.5 percent) In a previous study, suicide rates were three times higher in police than in other municipal workers. (Velasco) But what can be the cause for an officer to even think about committing suicide. According to this article trauma can cause a feeling of lack of control, vulnerability and not being able to cope with future occurrences and these are risk factors for suicide.
So, what can we do to reduce stress as an officer and how to approach this unacknowledged disease? UB research is carrying one of the first large scale investigation on how stress of police work affects an officer’s physical and mental health, funded $1.75 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The NIOSH added $750,000 to the study to measure police officer fatigue and the impact of shift work on health and performance. (Velasco) In the meantime, here are some ways to deal with stress seek for help from programs or a therapist in your department and conduct programs in effort to support others with the same problem. When there is evidence of excessive stress officers are ordered to undergo a psychological fitness for duty evaluation (FFDE), it determines one’s capacity to perform the functions required of a police officer.
A few police officers deal with the work stress by hardiness which is a strategy that motivates the person to preserve stressful working circumstances as opportunities of development growth. These officers have a commitment to a hobby outside of work and focus on that specific activity which can control that specific activity and that stimuli to their own benefit which can reduce stress. Other suggestions are taking your day off serious and do as little “policing” as possible. Enjoy the time with family and friends and make a point to not talk about work on your downtime. Start planning meals and making healthier choices as an Officer I’m sure fast food gets old and eating something you cook can make a difference in your mood and your health. Start scheduling vacations and personal downtime the overtime money can look lovely but too much investment into working long over can be stressful. Seeing your doctor regularly for checkups can prevent many unwanted health issues. Living within your financial means so that moonlighting with a second job is not necessary. While at work create a patrol buddy program or just incorporate another officer and make time to check on each other even have a lunch date if possible.
Not all stress can be bad its being shown that it can help officers get out of dangerous situations and motivate individuals. We need stress to get some work done at time and it can be a good motivation to helps us strength our minds and cope with many unpredictable situations in our lives. If you are experiencing negative stress in your life there are ways in which you can manage it effectively. These are a few suggestions but not everyone is the same or not every situation can be forgotten so easily but the key is to keep moving forward and remain positive as often as you can. Make time for things that are important to you and set realist goals. Set a plan to ensure that there is balance in your life. Ensure you get as much sleep as you can. Meditation can also help with reducing stress. The smallest changes can make a difference in your life and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. One of my favorites is when you set a goal stick to it and avoid procrastinating because when we fail to meet that goal, we tend to be hard on ourselves.
In conclusion there is no question that police officers experience unique stressor that can result in physical and psychological symptoms. The belief that being a Police officer is the most stressful job is not very accurate those in other public safety occupations also experience high levels of stress. Many research studies are investing time and money to search for way to help officers improve their abilities to cope. Many departments are more aware of the post-traumatic stress disorder and are not taking this lightly as a matter of fact these department provide assistance for their officers. Theirs many LEO supporters who invest their time to help officers on social media which is a very efficient method since everything is online now. Stress can be a dangerous mental illness when not treated and unfortunately officers do committee suicide. My suggestion is making time to balance your life and take your mental health serious, start planning you schedule according to the stress-free lifestyle you wish to have. Family and friends support is another key to a happier stress free life.