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The Many Mental Health Stresses Faced by Law Enforcement Professionals

Black NYC police officer

Today’s law enforcement professionals confront a wide variety of challenges every day on the job. One of the most significant challenges they face is mental health stressors. These are strains or burdens on the emotions and cognitive processes that can lead to mental health problems if not treated adequately.

Holding down a job with such high stress levels requires support and relief to keep mental health issues from arising. Here are a few examples of the types of stress law enforcement officers might face on the job.

Law Enforcement Professionals Are Expected to Deal with High Levels of Unpredictability

Due to the nature of the work, officers may encounter a variety of needs, duties, problems, work environments, expectations, and more. There are a series of steps and requirements to become a law enforcement professional, and officers are thoroughly trained to be prepared for many contingencies.

Predictability and regulation are key components of preserving positive mental health. Unfortunately, the high level of variability and unpredictability in the profession can contribute to an environment that significantly taxes officers’ mental health.

The absence of predictability depletes mental health and causes stress that, compounded with other stressors over time, can endanger officers’ well-being.

The Perfect Storm: Difficult Interactions with the Public, High-Pressure Situations, Insufficient Support

Many components of the average law enforcement officer’s job contribute to a higher-than-average toll on mental health. Officers often find themselves face-to-face with difficult-to-work-with populations. Individuals who have mental health or addiction issues, live on the street, and have committed or are suspected of committing crimes, can present many difficult emotional states, threats, and communication challenges.

Law enforcement officers are often first responders in high-pressure or dangerous scenarios. This raises adrenaline levels, demands high-intensity decision-making and problem-solving, and sometimes involves high degrees of risk. When all of this happens regularly, officers may start to feel stressed beyond endurance.

And when police forces are inadequately staffed and cannot give officers the breaks and space they need, individuals become chronically overworked. When exposed to highly stressful situations while overworked and fatigued, the harmful mental health effects are heightened and compounded.

Officers From Underrepresented Groups Experience Additional Mental Health Stresses

Many law enforcement environments can be particularly stressful for people of color, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Although it is well-documented that women and other underrepresented groups make a meaningful contribution to law enforcement, the institutional culture within some agencies has been historically unwelcoming or even hostile to these groups.

Though these attitudes are undoubtedly shifting and have meaningfully improved in recent years, the problem still persists in places and has been difficult to eradicate completely. Because of this, officers from diverse backgrounds can sometimes experience pushback, discrimination, degradation, or a lack of support from their peers and teammates within the force.

This compounds the stress and demanding emotional landscapes some law enforcement professionals deal with in their work.

Institutionalized Inadequacy: The Tide Is Only Beginning to Change for Mental Health Treatment

An additional component of law enforcement that can contribute to the emotional stresses on officers is lingering institutional inadequacy regarding mental health. Historically, many law enforcement bureaus and organizations have lacked awareness and sensitivity toward the mental health needs and concerns of officers.

For officers who work in difficult settings, law enforcement organizations often have been slow to recognize mental health’s widespread importance and effects on well-being and performance. This has resulted in weak policies and procedures protecting the mental health of law enforcement professionals and effectively treating their concerns.

Thankfully, this is changing. As mental health becomes a more prominent concern within society, more institutions are making it a priority. However, the problem still exists in some pockets of the law enforcement landscape. It can create adverse or detrimental situations for law enforcement officers who work on forces that continue ignoring mental health best practices.

Tips for Law Enforcement Officers Worried About Their Mental Health

If you, a family member, or a friend works in law enforcement and you are worried about your or their mental health, here are a few tips for what to do.

Implement a Personal Mental Health Regimen

This is an important action step anyone can take at any time, regardless of mental health concerns or history. Some actions or habits will always benefit your mental health. They can have the same effect as taking vitamins or maintaining a healthy diet. Spending regular time outside, exercising, devoting time to meaningful relationships, and getting adequate sleep are powerful mental health aids anyone can incorporate into their routine.

When in Doubt, Seek Professional Help

Mental illness can become very serious if untreated. If you are consistently stressed, depressed, anxious, or dysregulated, seek an appointment with a counselor or psychologist. It’s always better to find out from a professional that you don’t have anything to worry about than ignore a problem and allow it to worsen.

Speak to a Supervisor, Loved One, or Colleague on the Force

If you’re worried about a problem, speak to your supervisor. If you’re not comfortable doing so, tell a family member, friend, or colleague on the force. It’s important to line up support in the workplace as you take care of any mental health concerns. Additionally, your employer might offer mental health support you didn’t know about.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Sarah Daren has been a startup consultant in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children.

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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