Friday, March 15, 2024

The Mental Health Risks of being a Law Enforcement Officer


Law enforcement officers (LEOs) have an important role in our communities. They are responsible for protecting us and our property, but they also play a crucial role in providing emotional support to those in need. Whether it's offering comfort and information to victims of crime or natural disasters, LEOs serve as a beacon of stability in chaotic and traumatic situations.

But their job is not easy. LEOs face difficult situations every day and regularly encounter criminal and violent acts. It's their duty to maintain peace and order, show compassion towards victims, and save those who are in danger. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, they may not always be able to protect or support victims, or apprehend dangerous criminals. And when this happens, they may experience moral distress, a type of psychological pain that arises when an individual is expected to make the right decision but is unable to do so due to internal or external factors. This can greatly affect an officer's core values and lead to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, shame, compromised integrity and justice, reduced sense of dignity, and emotional suffering.

While they are driven by a strong desire to protect and serve their communities, LEOs are also regularly exposed to traumatizing situations that can take a toll on their mental and emotional well-being.

One common issue among LEOs is compassion fatigue. This develops when LEOs are repeatedly exposed to the suffering of others, but are limited in their ability to help or make a positive impact. The constant feeling of being unable to alleviate the trauma of victims can lead to difficulties in emotionally disengaging from their experiences. This can have serious consequences, such as hindering decision-making abilities in critical situations and causing emotional detachment or numbness. In extreme cases, it may even lead to resignation from the job.

But the challenges faced by LEOs go beyond just caring for others. They are also exposed to dangerous and gruesome situations, such as hostage scenarios, drug busts, and responding to fatal accidents. The cumulative effect of these traumatic events, combined with the everyday stressors of the job like long hours, difficult people, and political tensions within the department, can greatly impact an LEO's mental health and ability to perform their duties effectively.

In some scenarios, LEOs may be forced to use lethal force, leading to immense psychological distress. Making a mistake resulting in the death of a colleague or being ordered to do something that goes against personal beliefs can also cause moral injury, similar to what soldiers experience on the battlefield. These experiences can leave LEOs struggling with feelings of guilt and shame that can greatly impact their mental well-being.

LEOs who have killed or severely injured a perpetrator are at higher risk of developing PTSD if they do not address their moral injury.

Suicide is also a significant concern among LEOs, though it is not exclusively caused by exposure to traumatic events. Lack of social support is a major factor contributing to feelings of hopelessness and suicide among LEOs. In 2017, 103 firefighters and 140 LEOs died by suicide, while 93 firefighters and 129 LEOs died in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, LEOs, like other first responders we’ve discussed, are often the last to admit they need help, as it goes against their role as providers of support rather than recipients. Seeking help is often stigmatized or seen as a weakness in this community, where toughness is essential. However, it is crucial for first responders to know how and where to find help in order to build resilience.

Support mechanisms, the removal of the stigma associated with experiencing emotional distress, and education about good mental health being just as important as good physical health need to be available and easily accessible to all first responders.


If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”

Get your copy of The Soldier's Guide to PTSDThe Soldier's Workbook

or Acknowledge & Heal, A Women's-Focused Guide to PTSD

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