Law enforcement officers have a challenging job, witnessing and experiencing traumatic incidents that most people cannot even imagine. Although the fear of being killed on the job is a reality, it is just one aspect of the job. Officers are also faced with fatal car accidents, suicides, witnessing poverty and despair, sexual assaults, armed robberies, and more. On top of that, they endure endless night shifts, a poor diet, and irregular sleep patterns that can result in physical and mental health issues. Inter-office politics, a lack of mentorship, and questionable leadership can also make the job more challenging.
Looking at statistics for post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, divorce, and suicide among law enforcement reveals the cost.
According to the Blue H.E.L.P. organization, which tracks law enforcement suicides, there were 295 reported suicides in 2021. This is a 28% increase from the previous year. Additionally, law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. The suicide rate for law enforcement officers is 18.1 per 100,000, compared to 14.5 per 100,000 for the general population (National Institute of Mental Health).
Traumatic incidents are a regular part of the job for law enforcement officers. They witness and experience things that most people can’t even imagine, from violent crimes to fatal accidents. According to a study published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, the average police officer experiences a significantly higher than the number of traumatic incidents experienced by the average civilian.
Despite the rising rates of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, divorce, and suicide among law enforcement officers, seeking help remains a significant challenge due to fear of losing their badge or job, being ostracized by peers, and the stigma surrounding mental health.
So, what can be done to address the issue of PTS, depression, anxiety, divorce, and suicide among law enforcement officers?
One important step is to increase awareness and education around these issues. Law enforcement agencies can provide training and resources to officers to help them recognize the signs of mental health struggles and provide them with the tools they need to seek help.
Another important step is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the law enforcement community. This can be done through initiatives that promote mental health and well-being, such as peer support programs and employee assistance programs. Law enforcement agencies can also work to create a culture of openness and acceptance around mental health struggles, where officers feel comfortable seeking help without fear of negative consequences.
Yet all of these strategies require support from someone else. Help and support that may never come.
So what can we do while we wait?
According to a study published in the Lancet in 2018, researchers have found that exercise can have a significant impact on reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improving overall mental health. The article cites a study in which participants who engaged in regular exercise reported a 43% reduction in poor mental health days.
In a more recent study, researchers found exercise to be more effective than medication in treating depression and anxiety! Published just this year, data from over 500,000 individuals found that those who engaged in regular physical activity reported fewer mental health issues than those who did not. Study authors found that intervals of exercise 12 weeks or less were most effective for improving symptoms related to mental illness, suggesting that even small changes for a short period of time could have beneficial effects.
While higher-intensity exercises had “greater improvements for depression and anxiety,” all kinds of physical activity could “significantly reduce symptoms.”
So yeah, the job is tough; and of course, it would be wonderful if our departments had our back, training to manage PTSD was created, and programs to reduce the stigma while increasing peer support would be FANTASTIC.
But while we wait… Let’s grab our gear and Go to the Gym.
You’re not alone…
In the book “Lessons in Cadence”, I interview 5 military veterans and 4 police officers in an attempt to discover the common battles with post traumatic stress, from the events they experienced, through their deep personal struggles and into their internal recalibration efforts as they make strides towards healing. It provides the reader with an honest and unfiltered look at the internal monologue of men and women who are fighting the battles to recover and re-establish their identities. Discover their truth strength by witnessing their vulnerability with you, the reader. You are not alone…