Police officers and other first-responders may sometimes seem like super-heroes, but they are only human. They know they are risking their lives, health, and sanity every day. They are more likely than the general public to suffer from stress, depression, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). They are less likely, however, to avail themselves of rehab services.
Mental Health Disorders
Some of the most common mental health disorders experienced by law enforcement personnel include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes called post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI), this condition involves flashbacks, hyperarousal (being always on edge, anticipating something bad about to happen, bad dreams or difficulty sleeping), and avoiding situations that might trigger an attack.
Anxiety disorders. Panic or obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and eating and sleeping disorders,
Depression. To feel that nothing is worth trying or doing, that all is hopeless.
Substance Use Disorders (SUD). Dependence on alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs, often as a means of coping with PTSD or other mental disorders.
Law Enforcement and Mental Health
Firing at a target is different from shooting at or killing someone, whether it is justified or not. It takes a toll on the shooter, too, and may result in PTSD or other mental health issues such as substance use disorder. So can seeing or surviving combat, domestic violence, or an automobile collision.
Other factors affecting law enforcement officers’ mental or physical health include their irregular work hours and schedules and the daily scrutiny by supervisors, fellow officers, and the public at large. Even if they often get the benefit of the doubt from juries and courts, but the time under the microscope is taxing. And though police and citizens now have video cameras in their pockets, it’s a fallacy to assume the camera can’t lie, deliberately or inadvertently.
A 2017 study from the Ruderman Family Foundation, found that police are:
More likely than the general public to have a mental health disorder.
More likely to commit suicide than be killed on duty.
Five times as likely to have depression or PTSD.
Less likely to get counseling for suicidal thoughts or mental illness for fear they will seem weak and lose their jobs.
Asking for Help
Having a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder doesn’t make an officer weak or bad. Addiction seems to have a genetic component that makes SUD more likely. Because addiction physically alters the brain, hijacking the reward center, quitting becomes even harder.
That’s the first part: convincing law enforcement officers that they have no reason to feel ashamed. Addiction and other mental health issues are diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Second is reassuring law enforcement officers that they don’t put their jobs at risk by asking for or seeking help. There already are laws to that effect, but anecdotal reports suggest better privacy protection is needed.
Finally, the resources needed for law enforcement officers to find the help must be made more readily available. Police officers must feel safe and confident in asking for help addressing mental health issues.
Here are some organizations that offer free resources for police officers.
Here are some free resources for police officers to use for mental health:
“3 Mindfulness Techniques,” a four-minute video.
“Protect your mental health: Stop saying these 5 things, a list of self-stigmatizing statements on mental illness to avoid.
“How police leadership can respond to officer mental health crises,” seven suggestions.
Copline.org - Free resources and hotline for emotional wellbeing in police officers
Policeone.com - Safeguarding your mental wellness
The Law Enforcement Employee Assistance Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Occupational Health:
Medical programs and services.
The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) and how it is being implemented.
The All Clear Foundation: Wellbeing and life expectancy resources for first responders and their families.
Bulletproof mobile app for iPhone or Android: The 100 Club of Arizona’s app for finding mental health services for police.
The Disaster Responder Assets Network (DRAN): Online peer support group meetings (Pacific Standard Time).
samhsa.gov - First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma
ohsonline.com - Mental Health and First Responders: How Their Jobs Can Cause More than Just Stress
ct.counseling.org - Why Do Cops Avoid Counseling?
dir.nv.gov - The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders