Police Officers and Mental Health: Why We Need To Assign Our Peace Officers Therapists

The law enforcement profession is a complex job, far more challenging than most people care to admit. Think about it, what other profession requires you to be combat-ready, where one is called upon to be a counselor, priest, a lawyer, a social worker; a job that authorizes you to use deadly force at the same time mandates you to save the person you just tried to kill or tried to harm you? These are hard times for first responders not to mention their families with all the political upheaval and the ever-present threat of foreign and domestic terrorism loom over all our lives each day.

There are approximately 900,000 police officers in the United States and some studies suggest that 19% of them live with PTSD, but what is more shocking is that nearly 34% of cops who suffer associated symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and or other mental illnesses do not meet the standards for a full diagnosis. According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, those in law enforcement face much higher rates of suicidal ideation than the general public; in fact, the research reveals that 1 in 4 police officers think about taking their lives at some point in their life.

Additionally, a study conducted by the Ruderman Family Association also concluded that in 2017, a lot of cops, as well as firefighters, died by suicide than those killed in action. While police officers are adequately trained on how to deal with other people in crisis rather than their own issues, that doesn’t mean that they should suffer in silence because there are plenty of resources and underutilized psychological services that are both free and confidential.

Officer mental health is an ongoing complex issue and while some police departments avail their officers’ numerous visits with a psychologist per year, most of them, men especially, turn down professional help, why? Because there is the negative stigma associated with mental health and perceived weakness so, imagine what kind of policing an officer with PTSD will provide. You will find that because he or she is constantly triggered by reminders of the event, they may not sleep well because of nightmares maybe even start self-medicating. Consequently, such an officer will not think clearly, will probably be hyper-vigilant, even have a short fuse.

Anything from a serious line-of-duty injury to officer-involved shootings, including injuries or death to children or even serving in neighborhoods where residents are openly hostile toward the police can cause undue stress even result in PTSD consequently, they experience physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. According to a police suicide prevention program called Badge of Life, each year, there is an average of 130 suicides because an officer takes his/her life every 81 hours. While coping mechanisms have always been a part of overall police culture for years, more mental-wellness training needs to be carried out to help mitigate officer stress.

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