Stress Another Hazard of the Job for Police Officers

Not surprisingly, high levels of stress are a regular part of the job faced by
police officers. A recent study revealed that the psychological stress that
police officers experience in their day to day work puts them at a higher risk
for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and other physical and mental health
ailments. They may even face an increased risk for suicide.

The Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) study evaluated
464 police officers from the Buffalo Police Department, over a five year
period, to examine the association between the stress of being a police officer
and psychological and health outcomes. The findings demonstrate that police
work by itself can seriously affect the health of officers, according to the
study's principal investigator John Violanti, PhD, professor of social and
preventive medicine at the University of Buffalo.

The research was founded on the assumption that the danger, high demands and
exposure to human misery and death that police officers experience on the job
contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic
health issues. The researchers also wanted to know what other contributing
factors lead to cardiovascular disease in police.

Shift work, for example, was found to be a contributing factor to an increase
in metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms believed to increase the risk of
heart disease, stroke and diabetes). Researchers found that as a group,
officers who work nights have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome than those
who work day shifts, an important fact considering that 46.9 percent of
officers in the BCOPS study worked a non-day shift compared to just 9 percent
of U.S. workers.

40 percent of the officers were obese, compared with 32 percent of the general

More than 25 percent of the officers had metabolic syndrome versus 18.7 percent
of the general population.

The officers studied were at increased risk of developing Hodgkin's lymphoma
and brain cancer after 30 years of service.

Suicide rates were more than eight times higher in working officers than they
were in officers who had retired or left the police force, challenging the
common belief that officers who have left or retired from the force are at
increased risk for suicide.

The study found that the culture of police work is often not supportive of
improving health or of those who have problems. Officers who reveal health
problems may pay a high price in terms of losing financial status, professional
reputation or both. For example, if they have heart disease, they may not be
allowed to go back on the street; or if they go for mental health counselling,
they may be overlooked for promotions.

Recommendations from the study authors

The study authors recommend that officers in police academy be given
appropriate training so they understand signs of stress and how to get them
treated. They suggest that middle and upper management in police departments
should receive training on how to accept officers who ask for help, and how to
ensure that officers are not afraid to ask for that help.

Further Information - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety