May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Law enforcement officers are human beings, like everyone else. The critical difference is that when law enforcement officers struggle with their mental health, the effects can be far more severe. Police officers spend much of their time in highly stressful situations and environments, often dealing with high-stress problems and disturbing incidences. Over time, exposure on the job takes its toll.
Mental health issues in law enforcement can significantly impact officers, their families, and those around them. Some of the most common challenges that police officers experience include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. These issues can be challenging to navigate on your own. Still, by understanding these issues, we can better learn how to prioritize and allocate resources to support law enforcement officers.
Here are three reasons law enforcement officer’s mental health needs to be prioritized:
- Law enforcement officers report much higher depression, burnout, PTSD, and anxiety rates than the general population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 25% of officers have experienced thoughts of self-harm.
- Poor mental health negatively impacts an officer’s productivity. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that poor mental health and stress could negatively affect employees of organizations in various areas, including their overall performance and productivity, engagement in work, communication with those they interact with, and overall physical capability daily function. Within the position of a law enforcement officer, their role is crucial to public safety. They enforce local and state laws, actively seek to prevent crime, and advocate for crime victims. In being entrusted with critical responsibilities, when officers experience a decline in their mental health, they are more likely to experience a drop in their productivity levels, which puts not only them at risk, but also the public.
- Law enforcement officers rarely seek help. The stigma around mental health has led officers not to seek the help they may need. Barriers to seeking services include an inability to recognize when issues have arisen, issues confiding in others, and a lack of relatability to the law enforcement profession.
It is no secret that today’s law enforcement is under great stress to perform their job. Between a pandemic, the gap in agencies and communities, and growing crime rates, the daily tasks of officers are only increasing. In raising awareness, we can bridge the gap to steer officers to seek the help they may need. When we prioritize mental health, we let officers know that they can seek the help they deserve and not have to face these challenges alone.
We have listed resources for agencies and their officers to share or seek help should they need it: