Psych Eval Podcast: Episode 2 Creating Resilience in Law Enforcement
The field of law enforcement consisting of experiencing the darkest parts of the human experience. Being in this environment increases risk for trauma‐related symptoms, depression, alcohol‐use disorders, and stress‐related medical conditions.
The combination of stress and the exposure to traumatic events increases the possibility of mental health issues, making the development of a mental health program for law enforcement essential
These programs can be more reactive than proactive
history: Prior to 1980, few resources have existed for law enforcement that promote mental wellness in officers.
1980-1990: Two important programs came wellness programs and employee assistance programs (EAP).
19% of police officers report suffering from PTSD while 34% report PTSD symptoms but not a full diagnosis of PTSD.
Law enforcement officers witness an average of 188 critical incidents throughout their career. Additionally they have one of the highest rates of harm and illness among all occupations, and it also places them at higher risk for experiencing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, ulcers, cirrhosis, and chronic pain.
Research sadly indicates law enforcement officers are at higher risk for an early death
The ongoing effects of being in such an environment on a daily basis can lead to an officer enduring emotional, mental, and physical burnout which can manifest in the form of depression, maladaptive emotional experiences such as hopelessness and bitterness, and suicidal thoughts.
As recent as 2019, twice as many law enforcement officers died by committing suicide compared to dying while working.
Officers did not pursue mental health treatment for three reasons.
fear of a breach of confidentiality to the department
being misunderstood by the counselor
fear they would be found unfit for duty.
Fear of shame…
Possibly the largest barrier to law enforcement engaging in counseling is the stigma of seeking help.
Officers often believe they are weak and run the risk of being unft for duty if they ask for help
males are less likely to seek mental health treatment because of the mindset that asking for help makes one weak and a failure.
Law enforcement culture often promotes masculinity and toughness, and this creates a barrier for officers who need mental health treatment
Researchers identified two types of stigma
self stigma: experiences a loss of self-esteem (self stigma), when they seek help from a mental health professional.
public stigma: various fears of repercussions should they ask for mental health assistance. These fears include being seen as unfit for duty, being given a psychological diagnosis, and losing their job as a result of their mental health concern
How we can help
These stigmas can be reduced with supportive leadership within the department and a department policy that removes stigma
Mental health wellness program components should be included in a mental wellness program: the development of a formal policy, administrative department leadership, a trained and culturally aware mental health professional, and a structured wellness model approach
the Washington County (Minnesota) Sheriff’s Office spearheaded a mental health initiative at their agency that includes peer support, health and wellness events, and classroom training
Ex. in 2019, West Lake Hills, Texas, Police Department developed a mandatory mental wellness program
The program requires each officer to attend an annual mental wellness check with a mental health professional. Leadership within the department wanted to break the stigma of mental health and thought the best way to do so was mandating mental wellness checks. The Chief took the first appointment, followed by administrative leadership to demonstrate to officers the importance of mental wellness.
Leaders may hold trainings on the topic of mental health, inviting mental health professionals to speak to the importance of wellness and specific coping strategies to mitigate stress
recommend law enforcement leadership display empathy for those officers struggling with a mental illness. Rather than judging the person for their struggles with a mental health related condition (PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.), provide support to the officer by empathizing and normalizing their condition
Price, M. (2017). Psychiatric disability in law enforcement officers. Behavioral sciences & the law , 35 (2), 113-123.
Taylor, M. A. (2022). Building Resilience in Law Enforcement Through a Mental Wellness Program. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 37(1), 155-161.Chicago