Ask almost anyone, and they’ll say that one of the most stressful jobs is probably law enforcement. And they are right. While men and women dedicate themselves to this line of work, they are well aware of what they may encounter day in and day out. This type of work atmosphere can begin to take its toll.
New evidence is beginning to emerge from various sources indicating that officers who do not have assistance minimizing their daily stress may be faced with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, also referred to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Link Between Chronic Fatigue, PTSD, and Other Health Issues
No matter the profession, when someone is fatigued and sleep deprived it can affect their overall health and wellness. Tack on the stresses of law enforcement and chronic fatigue and this can become a recipe for cognitive and psychological hurdles.
Medical healthcare professionals have pointed out that if a police officer suffers from fatigue it may maximize their chances of increased stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Other health issues which may also emerge may include:
- Gastrointestinal issues such as ulcers
- Chronic back pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Substance and alcohol abuse
San Diego addiction counselors and mental healthcare providers recommend that officers try minimizing their stress by mapping out getaways with family and friends, eating healthy, exercising regularly, and spending time with friends who are not in law enforcement to help decompress.
PTSD: The Stigma
In The Denver Post, Tom McGhee wrote about the stigma officers face every single day with PTSD. Their “medal of honor” can sadly morph into a “medal of shame.” Officers may fear that asking for help may be mistaken for weakness. And a state of weakness is the last thing an officer wants to be classified as having.
In the article Badge of Life, chairman Ron Clark estimated that there are roughly 875,000 law enforcement officers in the nation, and one in eight officers show signs of PTSD.
“This is one of the most dangerous psychological jobs in the world,” he told the reporter. “We have a nation of ill-educated chiefs, sheriffs, commissioners who don’t understand PTSD/mental health.”
Officers can be in the midst of a shootout and witness their fellow comrades killed in the line of duty.
However, the reporter pointed out while there are officers that may never come face to face with a “life-threatening incident,” the dreadful scenes they are called upon such as murder, suicide and fatal car accidents can trigger a tipping point. There is only so much a human being can endure.
Mary Guy, a regarded professor at the University of Colorado Denver told McGhee that when first responders, including officers leave a horrific scene, one’s senses can take over.
She told him, “These people are left with the images, the smells, the sounds. It just lingers.”
PTSD: The Avoidance
While the ratio of law enforcement officers dealing with PTSD is quite high, many are not so forthcoming about their issues. And it appears their department may be one of the root causes. Rather than casting fear and shame, they should be lifting the spirits of their employees who put their lives on the line every day.
A visit to human resources, letting someone know that they need to speak with a counselor should be encouraged, not discouraged. And an officer should never feel that being candid will risk upcoming promotions.
While not all workplaces can be a place of utopia, there is definitely room for improvement in law enforcement. And raising awareness is the first step in helping these men and women.