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Behind the Badge: Shining a Spotlight on Police Officer Mental Health

Law enforcement can be a tough—and oftentimes distressing—career, which makes it important to acknowledge police officer mental health and its unique stigma in the police community.

Though police officers have never had it easy, public unrest especially in 2020 and beyond has added new stressors to the job and taken a toll on officer morale. Unfortunately, while we’ve long known about the psychological effects of being a police officer, officers continue to face a number of significant barriers to receiving appropriate care.

So, what are the major problems surrounding police officer mental health? Here’s what to know about the prevalence of mental health disparities in law enforcement, including why so few officers acknowledge these conditions or seek out professional help.

Mental Health & Law Enforcement

Police officers report significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and burnout than the general population. 

There is no denying that being a police officer is tough work. There is also no ignoring the toll that the challenges of the job can take on an officer’s mental well-being. In order to better prioritize police office mental health, it’s essential to examine the primary reasons why—including these three major contributing factors. 

  1. What Officers See On the Job

A police officer is likely to witness many disturbing occurrances during their time in the force. This may include instances of child abuse, domestic violence, assaults, and homicides, all of which can put incredible strain on mental and emotional stability.

  1. Fears of What Could Happen at Work

Officers engage with threatening situations on a regular basis. It’s normal to be on edge and worried about personal safety, and given so, many police officers struggle with the compounding effects of dealing with this fear day in and day out. 

  1. Current Anti-Police Movement

Police officers are currently working within a society for which a growing number of persons and organizations are outwardly expressing dislike and/or distrust towards them. Additionally, they are working amidst an amplified call for police defunding and an overall willingness to stigmatize all law enforcement personnel as aggressive or “bad cops.”  

Of course, these stressors do have very real consequences. According to police officer mental health statistics, police incur high rates of suicidal thoughts, with one in four officers experiencing suicidal ideations; and more police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty

Stigma in Police Culture: Mental Health Barriers

It’s impossible to talk about law enforcement and mental health without recognizing the very powerful stigma that stands in the way of officers getting the care that they need.

Within the police community, there’s an expectation that officers be fearless and resilient, facing each challenge and moving to the next call-out without stopping to process what happened or how it might have affected them. Officers may feel that admitting to a mental health issue exhibits a weakness that they simply aren’t allowed to have, or that it may lead to the assumption they are unfit for the role. The consequences of which lend themselves to increased internalized shame, both amplifying syptoms and keeping them from seeking needed assistance. 

It is important to mention that officers are required to see a departmental psychologist after a traumatic issue on the job. However, this type of care rarely happens on a recurring basis, meaning any help may be insufficient for covering the full scope of the problem.

Breaking Down Mental Health Barriers

The more we discuss mental health in law enforcement, the more we help break down the stigma and encourage officers to seek proper care without guilt or shame. At Retreat Behavioral Health, we hope to continue doing our part by lending our qualified mental and behavioral health care services to our law enforcement community. 

Contact us today for more information, or visit our website for details.