By: Carlos Farina, MS, MCAP, NBCCH
Help For Our Heroes Program Director

There has been a growing concern and awareness about the problems and dangers of stress. It is estimated that stress-related problems are costing the American industry tens of billions of dollars a year for executives alone. The figures double when clerical and other blue-collar workers are included. Educating administrators and big bosses in the area of stress-related problems have not been an easy task. In fact, some feel that stress is a cop-out for some employees who want to manipulate the system. Reports indicate differently.

Employee assistance programs throughout the country are identifying that most of the high absenteeism, cost of losing and retraining employees, long-term disability claims, poor decision making, low worker morale, and low productivity are, most of the time, a direct byproduct of the tremendous stress that the average American is experiencing today. This is not only affecting the place of work but often materializes itself in the home as an evil and destructive force as well.

So take the above-average employee and decision-maker, the above-average social worker, psychologist, marriage counselor, law interpreter, and enforcer, and what do you have? A cop. A regular human being who, believe it or not, feels, bleeds, and often hurts when coming face to face with the social atrocities and its reality. Often police officers find themselves placing oral bandaids, or shuffling reports with only the immediate self-satisfaction of placing the violator behind bars for a minimal amount of time, knowing perfectly well that the system they have sworn to uphold has more loopholes than Swiss cheese. So what is this human being supposed to do? For most police officers, these tremendous demands are of great importance. However, they carry some very heavy prices and sometimes the ultimate price is paid; life itself.

Studies have indicated that in recent years, police officers’ perception of a reduced level of public support has increased dramatically, coupled with the frustration and deep dissatisfaction with our criminal justice system. Also, police scandals and disciplinary actions brought against them have certainly increased their levels of stress. For the rookie officers, the above problems may not seem of immediate concern as they have yet to experience the countless ups and downs of the job and figure out how to endure them. However, for the veteran police officer, it is a time for constant readjustment and survival. Adjustments don’t just happen overnight, not on this job. It’s a battle between the old way and the new ones. For some police officers, this internal struggle leads to job dissatisfaction and a feeling of helplessness, which can and often does lead to stress.

How does a cop deal with stress? Well, for the most part, it is internalized, eating away at the gut like a tumor growing as time goes by, becoming a shadow of a silent partner offsetting the officer’s way of life and having to compensate by using up his adaptive energy or by dumping their frustrations onto the general public, their family, and often their closest friends. Choosing to dwell and dump feelings in this fashion might very well be used as a form of fertilizer to feed these negative feelings until they grow out of control and if untreated, could lead to catastrophic results; In other words, a human bomb.

Cops, for the most part, are problem solvers. Whether it is a violent domestic situation or a horrendous traffic jam, the police officer has and is expected to handle all of it. It is for this very same reason that cops are so reluctant to admit they have problems, let alone recognize one. And if a problem were to emerge and be recognized and admitted to by the officer, what are the odds that the very same officer seeks professional counseling? Let me be the first to tell you, the odds are not very high. After having conferred with almost one hundred officers, all of their answers were the same; they would not seek help. When I asked why the majority of them stated that they would be afraid of the consequences if their department found out. Also, most of the officers interviewed did not consider a marital breakup to be a major event in their lives. Statistics show that police officers have the highest rate of divorce and that most will marry at least twice in their law enforcement career. These statistics, which clearly depict a problem, compounded with the lack of interest in seeking professional help, could perhaps be a dangerous mixture of chemicals in the ever-increasing tense and demanding world of the police officer.

The following are some suggestions and solutions in the area of officer stress reduction:

  • Making sure the administration understands and accepts stress as a deadly disease, that in the long run will cost the department a tremendous amount of money by either treatment for the officer and/or by a nice sizable lawsuit involving the officer’s behavior or actions
  • Raising the officers level of awareness about the symptoms, prevention, and treatment of stress-causing problems
  • Perhaps the most important one is gaining the officers’ trust, respect, and confidence and letting them know that someone does care and that the department has a moral responsibility of helping fellow officers through the turmoil of their career

Rarely are any of the above accomplished without a struggle. We’ve worked really hard to try and put counseling services and employee assistance programs into place, but we still have a long way to go. These programs are designed to deal with the widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs among them, for the reduction and prevention of stress, which often leads to substance abuse. One thing is certain if we all turn our heads the other way, the problems will not disappear and negating help for those who need it most would be condoning this terrible cop-killing disease called stress.

If you are facing a problem you cannot solve, remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We understand what you’re going through and we can help you get back on track. All you have to do is reach out.