LEOs are not asking for mental health support. Let’s work on changing that.
Law enforcement officers (LEOs) face common mental health issues and often believe that treatment is effective, but professionally risky. They may fear a fitness for duty evaluation (FFDE) if they self-disclose that they need the help of a mental health professional. They may feel anxious about the possibility of losing their job. Masculinity within police culture can get in the way of their getting help. Let’s work on changing that!
There are many issues that influence a law enforcement officer’s stress including organizational practices, a supervisor’s discipline style, and workplace discrimination. They may be second guessed, experience frequent criticism, and be sexually harassed. They may lack recognition and be denied requested days off. Work schedules such as long work hours, shiftwork, night shift, and excessive overtime impact their wellness. LEOs are stressed out by co-worker relations such as lack of peer support, and fellow police officers may not be doing their job.
Potential dangers include threatening job risks, violent confrontations with the public, and the possibility of being injured. Moreover, trauma is extremely stressful on their body. Take for example, the body’s experience after a critical incident, a serious accident, exposure to suffering, a failed attempt at a civilian’s resuscitation, or seeing abused children or dead children. Not being able to manage their stress response can be deadly and bring about a mental health crisis. Let’s work on changing that!
When Work-related Stress Gets Personal
Financial problems, unhealthy coping, sleep issues are just piled on. LEOs may have had an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) that was not managed that is impacting their personal and professional life. It is stressful to have be fearful of the worst happening. It is stressful to intensely feel life fragility, as though they are always on the job. They may feel inadequate outside of police work and may face work-family conflict, have marital difficulties. It is stressful to often be absent from family functions or have many last minute plan cancellations. If the job is not stressful enough, they may even work a second job or be a single parent. Furthermore, they may be dealing with the stressful impact of negative public practices and negative media coverage. Let’s work on changing that!
What Can Police Departments Do to Lessen Stigma and Shame?
Law enforcement agencies realize that when a LEO has social networks for self-disclosure, their stress can be mitigated. Therefore, supervisors are attempting to establish an organizational culture of peer support and that it is okay to seek out psychological help and other mental health services. Police departments are adopting organizational wellness policies, are offering training on managing secondary traumatic stress, and are creating a vicarious trauma-informed workplace. Cultural taboos bring about discrimination which reduces help-seeking behaviors.
Based on a national study of U.S. law enforcement, over 90% of officers perceive stigma as negatively influencing help-seeking behavior, and when they access mental health resources and find them effective, levels of stigma are extremely high (Drew & Martin, 2021). As a rule, they are negatively impacted by perceptions of stigma when contacting support services (Acquadro Maran et al., 2022). Let’s work on changing that!
LEOs may believe that if they shared their feelings, their brothers and sisters would judge them. If they feel embarrassed by something that happened, it can feel demeaning. They may feel as if fellow officers are sneering, or supervisors are being condescending. Shame can cause them to cope in unhealthy ways. Being that shame is a deeply engrained emotion, avoidance strategies don’t work. If a law enforcement officer experiences shame and fears rejection, they may act in ways that bring about more feelings of shame. When LEOs feel shame, they may constantly worry about being rejected. What if their partner found out? Would they want to continue working with them? Let’s work on changing that!
The problem is most police officers won’t get help because of confidentiality. Several studies on officer stress show that they will get help if they realize that other officers experience the same symptoms and issues (Queirós et al., 2020). Sadly, most LEOs don’t get help because they’re using the same maladaptive coping methods or are enabling each other. Police department leaders and officers and other law enforcement agencies can either choose a path toward wellness and physical health or a social attitude that continues the stigma. Would you feel humiliated if anyone found out that you were seeking out mental health care? Would you be branded as weak? Let’s work on changing that!
Barbara is a leading authority and best-selling author on managing burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As a nationally recognized keynote speaker, she motivates audiences to build their resilience and create work-life balance. Her programs help leaders and teams manage workplace chronic stressors and get over burnout at work.
Barbara's newest book, "But I Didn't Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide", is available now on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2FwS6JI
• Three weeks prior to giving birth to triplets, her father died by suicide. Her story was featured in the Emmy award winning documentary, Fatal Mistakes, Families Shattered by Suicide narrated by Mariette Hartley. Many employees are grieving personal loss. She offers programs for leaders on lost productivity and performance while managing grief at work.
• As a sought-after keynote speaker who has presented to over 500 groups since 1991, including corporations, state and national associations and non-profit organizations, Barbara offers work-life balance strategies for leaders to implement right away. With clarity and humor, her speaking engagements are designed to give audiences powerful and practical strategies of work-life balance, wellbeing, and self-care that can be implemented immediately.
• Barbara is a Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She received a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in community health, with a concentration in thanatology, both from Brooklyn College.