There are many articles on how people cope with stress.  Some people in high stress helping professions find unhealthy means of responding to stressful times or situations including, excessive alcohol or other substance use, infidelity (often leading to marital problems…a source of massive stress), excessive spending (often leading to financial and marital problems), becoming reclusive by direct avoidance of supports such as friends, colleagues and family, or indirectly such as spending excessive time with the TV or involvment in video/computer games. This also includes avoiding help and support from concerned others.  Chronically responding to stress in this manner can lead to or increase depression, anxiety and other mental illness.

Public service professions typically attract people who are quite resilient.  Those who apply for and gain entry into the world of Law Enforcement, Fire Service, Emergency Medicine, and Nursing are often people who like challenges, enjoy working with people, are energized by being a member of a functional team and are willing to take risks.  In addition they are often people who can perform well under stress, have high levels of energy and are competitive.  People who are, in effect , “on fire” for their profession and perhaps life in general.  It should be noted that in order for a person to become burned out, they have to have been on fire…much like those who join these demanding professions.  Most of those who join have skills in coping with life’s challenges.  But when the ability to cope is taxed too much or for too long, even the most robust of professionals will experience the negative health consequences of stress.

The biggest stressors to officers according to the current and recent past research are:

  • Responsibility for killing someone in the line of duty
  • Having a partner killed in the line of duty
  • Disruption of family time/family rituals due to shiftwork or odd schedules
  • Lack of support by the department/bosses
  • Daily working with the stupidity of the public, or as a few folks from one of my departments called it the "ass-clown factor"

Law enforcement has consistently been listed as one of the “high stress” and thus “high-risk” professions. Long hours, family strain, exposure to danger, as well as many other job related stressors-- all contribute to higher levels of divorce, an increase in alcohol abuse and other general health problems.  This in turn lowers quality of life, compromises performance, and increases the danger to officers and the public.  Departments that view their officers and support staff as the agency’s most valuable assets, also recognize why officers who might need support don’t seek it. Progressive departments understand that a counseling specialist can provide profession-specific brief counseling, critical stress debriefings, training and other services to maximize the health and well being of the department.