Stress is a term used by many, is somewhat misunderstood, and often used to describe a negative condition or emotional state. People experience various forms of stress at home, work, in social settings, and when engaged in activities to simply have fun. Police officer’s experience stresses the same as others, but also in ways much different than the average citizen. The dangers, violence, and tragedy seen by officers result in added levels of stress not experienced by the general population.
What is stress? Stress is not a new phenomenon, it has been experienced throughout history. Stress is a biological response to some stimulus. Fear, panic, anger, tragedy and especially pressure can cause it. Stress can result in the competitiveness needed to succeed in business, relationships, sports, and education. Is stress bad or good? It is both. Good stress is manageable stress an can actually heighten your performance in certain situations. Bad stress is unmanageable stress and lessens your performance because it’s too much to bare.
Police work, by its nature, calls for an incredible amount of continual stress. The demands on police officers to show greater restraint has been increasing over the years and has increased the effects of stress on police work. Today’s police officer is now more than ever in the public eye. He now must think about consequences before his actions in every situation.
If we take a quick overview of police work and look at the research we can see what are some of the biggest stresses. Having your partner killed in the line of duty, lack of support by the department and bosses, shift work and disruption of family time/ family rituals and the daily grind of dealing with the scum of society. All of these factors add up and lead to high rates of cancer, heart disease, and suicide for police officers.
We are becoming all too familiar with police suicide especially with the attention it gets from the media. In New York City twice as many police officers die by their own hand than in the line of duty. Stress is put to blame for this. Every study done indicates that police officer face a much higher level of stress. For suicide there are four main factors: 1. Divorce 2. Alcohol 3. Depression 4. A failure to get help. All four factors are symptoms that can stem from an officer’s stress levels. An officer who got into trouble on the job, suspension or termination is seven times more likely to commit suicide.
Police suicide is more directly linked to relationship problems which in turn is linked to job stresses. Of the last fourteen suicides of police officers in New York City eighty-six percent had just had a divorce or relationship break-up. Police officers going through a divorce are five times more likely to commit suicide than officers who have a stable relationship. Relationship problems are highly related to job stress. In fact, studies have called police work to be a “high risk” lifestyle not because of physical danger, but high risk in developing attitude problems, behavioural problems, drug problems, and intimacy and relationship problems. These studies also show that police suffer from a substantially higher divorce rate ranging from sixty to seventy percent higher than normal couples.
The medical community has attributed stress to such biological responses as heart malfunctions, blood pressure variations, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, depression, muscular discomfort, strokes, and a host of nervous system related problems. For the police officer, biological consequences can represent more long term concerns, but the short term results are the most profound. Stress of the magnitude that affect an officer’s reaction time (increased or decreased) can seriously inhibit their ability to perform a vital action. An unrealistic increase could result in overreacting in confrontational situations, while a decrease...
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