Police Officer Stress

Police officers have one of the highest suicide rate in the country. The number of divorced officers is staggering – possibly the second highest divorce rate overall. Cops are second when it comes to problem drinking.  A law enforcement career is the most stressful career in the United States according to Hans Selye, the leading researcher in stress in the world.

What is it about police work that’s so unique? Chronic stress seems to be a major culprit, because, like anything else in excess, the body becomes used to it, building a sort of tolerance which can cause the officer to regress. This regression causes the officer to become more childish and immature. Spouses often report that their officer husband or wife becomes more self-centered, irritable, and even whiny, like a spoiled child. These are all signs of repressed stress in a police officer.

Chronic stress also causes officers to become insensitive. They’ve grown tired of seeing other people hurt, so they begin to stop feeling, or caring, about other people. In fact, they may even begin to care less about hurting other people, and do, without remorse.

Repeatedly answering stressful calls, day in and day out, one after another, wears on an officers strength – their ability to remain strong in high-tension situations. This loss of mental strength can make an officer much more vulnerable to even the normal pressures of life – a sick child, bills, etc.

Police officers are in a constant Catch-22, a damned if you do, damned if you don’t, world. They’re expected to make split-second, life-changing decisions (and I mean that literally), but at the same time they’re forced with the worry of being disciplined for that very action. And they must also fear public reaction to their decisions, which could also lead to career-ending civil actions where the officer loses everything.

All this for a whopping $40,000 or so per year. Well, unless you’re in Boston where it’s been reported that, with overtime, some officers rake in approximately $200,000 each year.

Have you seen signs of stress in a police officer? If so, what?

4 replies
  1. Elena
    Elena says:

    I brought this topic up to a buddy of mine who not only is a retired cop, but also was a trained peer counselor. Between us it became clear that we know more officers who had to retire early due to stress, usually defined as PTSD, than officers who retired because of age. This is tragic.

  2. puzzlehouse
    puzzlehouse says:

    My cousin was a police officer, and though he’s been retired for years now, he’s still wound so tight I swear he’s going to spin off into space sometimes. If that isn’t residual stress, I don’t know what is.

    My police source, Joe, was a member of the Ident unit, and had a couple of bad bouts. When he had to process the scene where a small girl had been raped and murdered, he had nightmares that it was his daughter on the ground, on the autopsy table, in the casket. At the time, there was no counseling offered for anyone except homicide and traffic, because, in the words of the powers that be: “They’re the only ones who deal with dead bodies.” It took a few years of lobbying hard, but he was instrumental in getting that dumbass rule changed.

    — Jena

  3. Elena
    Elena says:

    You mean like the two cops, on duty, married, but not to each other, who showed up at my house for a safe place to have a screaming match? They insisted on something to drink. All I could find was some vodka and canned grapefruit juice. It was when they actually drank it without flinching that I took them into my front room and settled them down for a session.

    They knew me as their yoga teacher – they didn’t know I was a licensed PTSD therapist. That’s my only good story.

    The bad ones ended in death and I still can’t talk about them. I guess after everything I still care.

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