Sample Psychology Paper on Mental Health Issues among Police Officers in the United States

  1. Introduction

Policing is one of the high-risk professions in the United States that is likely to lead to mental health issues.  Many policies officers experience a lot of psychological trauma in their day to day interactions with crime and critical incidences. Van der Velden et al. (2012) argued that the high risks in police officers’ jobs could be attributed to operational stressors that include experiencing death, accidents, suicides, violence and sexual harassment. Due to the grave and gruel appearance of these events, many police officers develop anxiety, fatigue and hostility. According to a report by Mumford, Taylor and Kubu (2014), police officers experience high mortality that exceeds the general population due to these stressors. The demise of their colleagues both in line of duty or in retirement causes anxiety among all colleagues. It is paramount to identify that these traumas may lead to the development of mental disorders, which include post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Therefore, through this article, the causes of mental health issues among police officers in the united shall be discussed, and probable solutions identified.

  1. Background

It is estimated that more than half of the adults in the United States are exposed to severe trauma in the cause of their lives. According to Hartley et al. (2013), the number of police officers experiencing psychological injury is much higher. Hartley et al. (2013) in their study, continued to extrapolate that averagely, the American police officer suffered over three traumatic events after every half year of duty. Fox et al. (2012) agreed that the trauma in police officers was so severe that in the year 2009, an estimated population of over 8500 police officers in Connecticut alone investigated homicide, armed robbery and sexual assault cases.

Furthermore, one out of eleven police officers were assaulted in the line of duty.  Most of these police officers were subjected to self-reliance technique to cope with the overwhelming traumas of their day to day duties. Notwithstanding, many police departments have not created ideal centers to deal with police traumas. Such has led to a continued increase in distraught police officers who end up suffering mentally. Mental issues also directly affect their performance, and many may end up feeling depressed. Therefore, mental health among police departments is an alarming issue that should be identified and determined in the right cause.

  1. Types of stressors

According to a report Violanti et al. (2017), there are over 800,000 police officers in 17,000 agencies in the United States tasked with the duty to enforce the law. Due to the difficulty of law maintenance, many of the police officers are under tremendous health risks. The risks are brought about by various factors in the work environment that work towards frustrating the efforts of the police officers. On the other hand, policing has been determined to be one of the most challenging roles assigned to individuals in the United States. In light of this, it is paramount to identify the stressors that make police work more difficult. Here are some of the main stressors attributed to the rising mental health predicament in many police departments.

  1. Exposure to traumatic and critical incidents

Police officers are the first line of protection to the public; this means that they are required to respond to all call of need. In response to these calls, they get exposed to traumatic and critical incidences that play a huge role in their line of duty.  In their line of duty, police officers get to see a gruesome image in crime scenes, accidents and death of their colleagues. For instance, as Fox et al. (2012) showed an estimated population of over 8,500 police officers in Connecticut alone investigated homicide, armed robbery and sexual assault cases.

Furthermore, one out of eleven police officers were assaulted in the line of duty. The one time experience triggers a strong emotional response and may be very difficult to cope. After the first exposure, many of the police officers may experience disorientation, anxiety, flashbacks, nausea and sleeping disorders (Waters and Ussery, 2007). In some incidences, these symptoms may occur temporarily while for others, they may have a long-lasting mental disturbance. On the other hand, police experience trauma from direct assault from civilians or other rogue police officers. Many of the individuals who have experienced these traumatic events may continue to experience the symptoms as mentioned earlier. Such police officers may continually have subsequent trauma even in cases where there is no imminent danger of being attacked. The exposure to traumatic and critical incidences are the leading cause many of the officers to suffer stress, which may eventually lead to more complicated mental health issues such as depression.

  1. Organizational stressors

Organizational stressors include the setting of many police departments. The management autonomy, decision making and the flexibility of these police departments cause significant stress for police officers in the line of duty.  Policing is dependent on a predetermined routine and hierarchy that is expected to be followed with minimal room for personal decisions. In some cases, police officers are expected to perform actions that are against their moral standing. Such management autonomy and decision making ideologies cause stress in situations that require none policing efforts. In some police departments, police officers are expected to perform exceptionally and deliver specific standards. Violanti et al. (2017) identified that organizational stressors such as job insecurity, lack of social support, low job control, job demand and work-family conflict were directly associated with poor mental health. These job strains play a considerable role in determining the mental health status of many of the police officers. The demanding nature of policing places many of the officers at risk of depression, poor performance and the eventual feeling of hopelessness.

  • Poor work environment

One of the other leading stressors for police officers is the work environment. Despite many policy reforms, the police work environment is continually getting more stressful. Police officers are expected to work for long hours in harsh environments (Gershon et al., 2009). For instance, in riots, police officers are expected to manage the rowdy crowds who are continually trying to attack and harm the police. Such harsh work environments are stressful as the officers are expected to stand their ground for hours until the rioters are dispersed (Janssens et al., 2018).

On the other hand, shift work is a crucial element of police work and is considered to be the most challenging job requirement that has adverse effects on the police officer’s health. Almost all police officers are expected to work both night and day shifts. The scheduling of both the night and day shifts is the leading cause of poor sleeping patterns among police officers in the United States. Lack of proper sleep is attributed to administrative errors that may have fatal effects such as falling asleep while driving (Waters and Ussery, 2007). Nonetheless, a sleep derived police officer is likely to make safety violations. Due to the many risks involved with shift duty, many officers are highly stressed either due to the lack of sleep or the aftermath of errors conducted due to poor sleeping habits.

 

 

  1. Effects of stressors
  2. Suicide ideation

Emotional stress is one of the leading causes of stress. Due to the high pressure of police work, feelings of hopelessness are likely to trigger suicidal thoughts. For instance, high demand due to the death of colleagues may cause fellow police officers to feel demoralized to the extent of wanting to commit suicide (Chae and Boyle, 2012). Additionally, poor working environments which have intense shifts may cause a change in sleep patterns. The continuous changes in sleep patterns may cause mental degradation that may lead one towards self-harm and eventual suicide.

  1. Sleep deprivation

As mentioned above, shift work is the leading cause of sleep deprivation among police officers. The requirement to stay awake for long hours and change in sleep patterns causes sleep deprivations. Additionally, after the initial traumatic and critical observation, many of the officers suffer from flashbacks, nightmares and lack of sleep (Waters and Ussery, 2007). Thus, the continued viewing of traumatic incidences, such as the death of young children and fellow officers will continue to hurt the sleeping patterns of the police officers. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of more advanced mental disorders such as depression.

  1. Alcohol and drug abuse

As a coping mechanism, many police officers are likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the effects of the stressors. Since alcohol is an anti-depressant, it is the initial go-to remedy for severe stress situations. Alcohol can be used for many purposes, such as reliving the trauma of losing a colleague. However, alcohol forms the basis to abuse other drugs. Some officers may use sleeping pills to help them with the nightmares. On the other hand, since police have access to narcotics, they might end up using them to hide from the traumatic realities. Eventually, the use of these drugs contributes to depression.

  1. Marital discord

Many of the stressors lead to failure of the relationships in their marriage. Due to the long working hours, trauma and nature of police work, the relationships tend to drift apart. In cases where a police officer has severe stress from work, violence towards the family members becomes a norm. Due to this aggressiveness, the family setup is no longer viable, and eventual divorce is precedent.  Also, the constant fear of having the officer killed on duty is another factor that may cause marital discord. All in all, the failure of the marriage will further contribute to more mental problems towards the officer.

  1. Domestic violence

Intimate partner violence is one of the most notable forms of domestic atrocities in America. Many of the officers are likely to engage in physiological harm, stalking, physical and sexual violence towards their domestic partners. Traumas, substance abuse and mental illness, contribute it the continued violence among partners. The demanding work shifts and family separation contributes to the discord. Also, the lack of comprehensive work support among on duty and veteran officers contributes to the adverse domestic violence. There is continuous mental tussle with the American police force that is enabled by the work stressors.

  1. Low productivity

Stress is directly attributed to low productivity. As identified above, many of the stressors have a heavy burden on the officers. Due to the mental turmoil, the officers feel demotivated and are likely to abscond duties. On the other hand, the death of a colleague is demoralizing and may cause the entire police department to feel sad and depressed. Psychological distress will continue to dampen police work, as many of them are likely to come late or not show up at all.

  1. Depression and PTSD

PTSD and depression are the leading effects of stressors. The severity of these case occurs from the continuous viewing high-stress incidences. Police officers who are continually engaged in criminal investigations are likely to have PTSD. On the other hand, veterans are likely to suffer from PTSD after their retirement. PTSD involves numerous flashbacks and realistic hallucinations. Eventually, PTSD will lead to a severe mental condition such as schizophrenia. Depression, on the other hand, is more common will on-duty officers who have more difficulty in balancing their duties and lack of adequate sleep.

  1. Recommendation
  2. Police stress model

The police should devise a stress model focused on reducing the impact of the work among both veterans and on-duty officers. The stress model can be made up of various steps whose purpose is to protect and rehabilitate the existing psychological issues among police officers. The model can begin by identifying the most frequent stressors. After identification, the approach can devise criteria in which the most resilient police officers are selected to serve in their corresponding departments. For instance, the officers who are likely to be deterred by a viewing of murder crime scenes should be tasked in investigating less gory cased. Officers with higher capabilities can be assigned to the more stressful scenarios. However, the police should regularly be rotated to avoid monotony. The program should also include an on-call basis shift to avoid overworking of some police officers. The shift system should also be abolished and a demand system employed. Thus, officers will only work for longer when needed, not all the time. Changing the work system will significantly reduce the mental impact of psychological stressors.

  1. Departmental and community support

Corporate and community support will play a significant role in reducing the stress levels of police officers. First, all police departments should have trauma centers that not only care for crime victims but also the officers. Debriefing the officers will play an essential role in determining the stress levels. The purpose of the departmental trauma support should ensure professional counsellors and psychologists are on call to ensure the mental health of case officers is continually monitored. In cases of severe trauma, the department should take measures to ensure the officer fully recovers before returning to duty.

On the other hand, community support may be instrumental in assisting the distraught officers. The police department can work with free counselling centers that are focused on helping veterans and on-duty officers. These centers can also give public education on how to treat officers. Also, programs such as community partnered research will ensure that both the public and administrators understand the stressors of policing and can work together in counselling depressed officers. Such applications will be very crucial to maintaining a mentally sound police force. The community-police programs will be vital in creating a safe environment for all the officers suffering from work-related psychological traumas.

  1. Smart assessment tool (SAM)

In light of the recent technological advancement, the use of gadgets can be implemented to monitor the health levels of police officers. One such device that can be used by the various police department is the smart assessment tool. The intelligent assessment tool (SAM) is an ideal technological implementation that can be used to monitor the stress levels of police officers (van der Meer et al., 2017). The SAM operates as a web-based application that can communicate with any smartphone that can be used to scheme through mental health databases. The SAM operation can be used to identify various symptoms and determine the mental health problem associated with ii. It may then evaluate the various risks associated with stressors and well-known risk factors. The tool should be confidential, and the collected data can be communicated to the teeth relevant department. SAM can also offer recommendations and preservative measure to be taken in severe PTSD scenarios. Also, the data collected by the device can be used by the trauma department to conduct a DSM-5 analysis of various symptoms during an interview with the subjects. Use of technology will make it easier to identify officers are suffering from all forms of mental disorders.

  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, Policing is one of the high-risk professions in the United States that is likely to lead to mental health issues.  Many policies officers experience a lot of psychological trauma in their day to day interactions with crime and critical incidences. One of the other leading stressors for police officers is the work environment. The police get exposed to traumatic and dangerous incidences that play a huge role in their line of duty.  In their line of duty, police officers get to see the gruesome image in crime scenes, accidents and death of their colleagues.  Despite many policy reforms, the police work environment is continually getting more stressful. Police officers are expected to work for long hours in harsh environments. For instance, in riots, police officers are expected to manage the rowdy crowds who are continually trying to attack and harm the police. Organizational stressors such as job insecurity, lack of social support, low job control, job demand and work-family conflict were directly associated with poor mental health. These job strains play a considerable role in determining the mental health status of many of the police officers. The mental health problem among the American police can be improved through changes in the system that favors and focused on sound psychological actions.

 

 

References

Hartley, T. A., Violanti, J. M., Sarkisian, K., Andrew, M. E., & Burchfiel, C. M. (2013). PTSD              symptoms among police officers: associations with frequency, recency, and types of traumatic events. International journal of emergency mental health15(4), 241–253.

Van der Velden, P. G., Rademaker, A. R., Vermetten, E., Portengen, M. A., Yzermans, J. C., &                 Grievink, L. (2013). Police officers: a high-risk group for the development of mental                       health disturbances? A cohort study. BMJ open3(1), e001720. Doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-     2012-001720

Janssens, K. M., van der Velden, P. G., Taris, R., & van Veldhoven, M. J. (2018). Resilience                   among Police Officers: a Critical Systematic Review of Used Concepts, Measures, and        Predictive Values of Resilience. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 1-17     https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-018-9298-5

Fox, J., Desai, M M., Britten, K., Lucas, G., Luneau, R., & Rosenthal, M. S. (2012).  Mental             health conditions, barriers to care and productivity loss among officers in an Urban Police      department. Connecticut Medicine, 76(5), 525-531.

Van der Meer, C., Bakker, A., Schrieken, B., Hoofwijk, M. C., & Olff, M. (2017). Screening for trauma-related symptoms via a smartphone app: The validity of Smart Assessment on            your Mobile in referred police officers. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric                      Research, 26(3), e1579. doi:10.1002/mpr.1579

Waters, J. A. & Ussery, W. (2007). Police stress: History, contributing factors, symptoms, and            interventions. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management,     30(2), 169-188.

Gershon, R. R., Baracos, B., Canton, A. N., Li, X., Vlahov, D. (2009). Mental, physical and    behavioral outcomes associated with perceived work stress in police officers. Criminal       Justice and Behavior, 36(3), 275-289.

Mumford, E. A., Taylor, B. G., Kubu, B. (2015). Law enforcement officer safety and wellness.         Police Quarterly, 18(2), 111-113

Chae, M. H. & Boyle, D. J. (2012). Police suicide: Prevalence, risk and protective factors.            Policing: An international Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 36(1), 91-118