Law Enforcement Faces Mental Health Challenges Daily
About one-half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, but most do not develop PTSD. For law enforcement, it’s an entirely different story. As first responders, they stand face to face with traumatic events on a daily basis. From medical emergencies to natural disasters and violent crime, exposure to trauma for police officers, detectives, and even correctional officers is inevitable.
Law enforcement is asked to have “tough skin” while on the job but responding to and witnessing repeating traumas can take a toll on the mental health of those that protect and serve, especially for those with over five years of service.
Post-traumatic stress among law enforcement, particularly police officers, is higher than one may think.
- 35 percent of police officers have PTSD (vs. 6.8 percent of the general population).
- 9-31 percent of police officers have Depression (vs. 6.7 percent of the general population).
- 55 percent of police officers reported that they consider quitting their job on a daily or weekly basis.
- The majority of police officers reported that they often feel trapped or helpless in their job at least once per week.
This weight can not only disrupt our professional lives but our personal lives as well but also lead to suicidal thoughts among some of the law enforcement population.
- 7.8 percent of police officers have pervasive thoughts of suicide.
- Law enforcement personnel are 54 percent more likely to die by suicide than all decedents with a usual occupation (13 out of every 100,000 people die by suicide in the general population – that number increases to 17 out of 100,000 for police officers).
- African Americans in law enforcement are two times more likely to commit suicide.
Law enforcement and their mental health care access
Many in the force are reluctant to seek out mental healthcare for the traumas that have built up over time. Most officers cite reasons as the stigma and fear that seeking assistance is a sign of personal weakness, followed by fear of job loss or repercussions in the workplace.
Even beyond the stigmas, 38 percent of police officers reported that their department does not provide adequate mental health services. According to a 2020 study involving 400 Dallas Police department personnel printed by JAMA, the journal for the American Medical Association, there are four main barriers to mental health access among law enforcement:
- The inability to recognize when they are experiencing a mental health issue
- Concerns regarding confidentiality
- Belief that mental health professionals cannot relate to those working in law enforcement jobs
- Notion that those who seek mental health services are unfit to serve as officers in the criminal justice system
Because of these concerns, less than 20 percent of police officers with confirmed mental health issues had sought services in 2019.
Progress is being made
There are many individual non-profit groups and government organizations that assist with access to mental health treatments for law enforcement, but in recent years, one of the most notable organizations is COPS Office.
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) was established through the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and provides assistance with community policing, and creates initiatives to advance the mental health and wellness of law enforcement officers in each community.
And, in 2018, with the help of the COPS Office, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act ( LEMHWA) was signed into law. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, this act called for the DOJ to submit a report to Congress on mental health practices and services in the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that could be adopted by federal, state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies and containing recommendations to Congress on the effectiveness of crisis lines for law enforcement officers, the efficacy of annual mental health checks for law enforcement officers, expansion of peer mentoring programs, and ensuring privacy considerations for these types of programs.
Expanding Treatment Accessibility for first responders
Though the Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) treatment itself has been around for over a century and has been used to treat veterans and special force operators for years, SGB is fairly new to the public.
Mental trauma often results in debilitating symptoms that can originate from the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response. When individuals suffer from trauma-related symptoms, oftentimes this fight or flight response is still in “high gear” after the trauma.
The SGB procedure interacts with the sympathetic nervous system to help restore normal psychological function and can address the biological symptoms associated with trauma. Using image-guidance techniques such as ultrasound, fluoroscopy, and computed tomography, a licesned medical doctor injects a local anesthetic into a bundle of nerves found near the base of the neck.
The treatment can help support the brain’s natural fight or flight response and can lead to a restored sense of safety and calm. SGB has been shown to have dramatic positive effects and can also help accelerate the positive impact of other therapies.
At Stella, more than 80 percent of those experiencing trauma found relief. Over 4,500 people in 48 locations around the world have been treated, many of them first responders. Luis, a law enforcement officer hurt in the line of duty, received SGB and experienced life-changing results which you can hear about here.
Seeking mental health solutions can be difficult, especially when it is engrained in a culture that needs “tough skin” to carry on throughout the day. But, mental health is an important part of survival for every human, especially for law enforcement.
If you’re depressed, anxious, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, you deserve the appropriate care. There are policies and treatments in place, and policies being created that help give you access to the care you need as law enforcement officers. If you are hesitant to find the care you deserve, please know that it’s a click away.
Learn more about the Stellate Ganglion Block here and gain new knowledge about the treatments that are changing first responders’ lives daily., Additional research from COPS Office is available below to assist the advancement of mental health awareness in law enforcement.
- Preparing for the Unimaginable: How Chiefs Can Safeguard Officer Mental Health Before and After Mass Casualty Events
- The Signs Within: Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness
- Breaking the Silence on Law Enforcement Suicides: IACP National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health