Signs of Stress Exhibited by Police Officers That Isn’t Always So Obvious

What is the connection between policing and stress?

Certain events in the USA have shined a spotlight directly on law enforcement and the problems that come with this occupation. Public perception of American law enforcement is the lowest it has ever been in over the last 22 years. According to a poll conducted in 2015, only 52% of the population have confidence in state police. People who used to believe the cops “served and protected” now assume they will “kill unnecessarily.”

Most of the public seeswork conducted by the police as “routine.” However, this isn’t necessarily true. A police officer’s work is sometimes filled with dangerous, stressful, and traumatic occurrences. One of the leading killers of police officers is suicide, with 108 law enforcement officials killing themselves in the year 2016 alone. The public, government, and police departments themselves need to re-evaluate the toll that policing has on overall mental health. The price cops pay as part of the job is quite high.

Police Stress

A lot of facets aren’t understood very well by most of the population. Many aspects of the job are hard for anyone not in law enforcement to comprehend.

Events that prove to be more challenging include shootings, assaults, and even terrorist acts. These events usually lead to police officers being faced with escalating an unpredictable demands over the course of several days, if not weeks. Police officers are usually caught in a psychologically overloadmental state, inundated with a variety of challenging and difficult work demands.

Five of the most stressful occurrences that police respond to are the following:

  • General domestic violence cases.
  • Exposure to dead or battered children.
  • Shooting a civilian who is in the line of duty.
  • An officer who suffers death in the line of duty.
  • Situations that warrant the need to use force.


One particular outgrowth that comes with working in the law enforcement sector involves social isolation. Cops tend to be closely associated with other police officers, and subsequently may feel uneasy in settings unrelated to law enforcement. For the most part, the kids and spouses of officers are entwined in similar circumstances, though this is usually left unsaid. The impact of seeing individuals at their very worst sometimes solidifies a police officer’s conviction that most of the world is comprised of criminals. Isolation in this regard usually results in the development of poor attitudes, such as “us versus them” states of mind.

The stress that emanates from isolation is compounded by pressure emanating from other sources relevant to the job, and as a result, faulty convictions become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Unseen Stressors

According to aSpielberger survey on police stress, male police officers have a high amount of common stressors that interfere with their downtime. A couple of examples include the need to manage second jobs (PR = 2.37, 1.57 – 3.57) and making court appearances (PR = 1.26, 1.04 – 1.52). In comparison, female police officers receive 37% less supervisory support in comparison to their male counterparts (PR = 0.63, 0.4 – 0.82).

A study was conducted in Detroit revealed the most integral factor of suicide by police officers under heavy stress – marital discord.

Single stressors that come with police work are also prevalent in other lines of work, too. But what separates law enforcement workers from people other professionals is the alpha male culture, which sometimes makes it hard (if not impossible) to seek assistance.

Chronic Stress

Without warning, police officers may find themselves reacting to events that include domestic disturbances, terrorism, or complex disaster involvement. Cops sometimes endure stressful conditions on a regular basis.

Chronic stress generally has a couple of effects on police officers. Prolonged stress stimulates people into regressing while their psychological evolution goes in the opposite direction. Consequentially, they become a lot more immature, turning into a primitive and childish individual. This is a common way people handlechronic stress. In the face of persistent discomfort, people revert naturally.

Sensitivity is numbed by chronic stress. People are not equipped to perceive human misery on a regular basis. They need to switch off emotions or forfeit the need to survive. Although the defense mechanism of the mind can help people who work in terrible situations, unfortunately, they may become indifferent (if not insensitive) to the suffering of others.

After identifying chronic stressors, proactive steps should be taken by authorities. There isn’t a distinction between personal problems and job-related ones, as they are both interwoven. One contributes to another.


Many professionals liken police officers to Vietnam vets who came home with PTSD without being diagnosed with it. Most feel a lack of gratitude for putting their lives on the line. Many came back with wounds, to boot. Most of the country was against the war, and subsequently, soldiers were perceived as “murderers.”

Although they are not part of a war, police officers usually can relate. This contributes to the job’s stress.

There are a variety of studies that have been conducted on the impact of modern-day stereotyping that police officers endure. Without enough studies conducted, it will be difficult to determine how existing negative perceptions about law enforcement will impact them over the long run, as well as their current ability to perform their jobs.

What we do know is that intervention should begin from the level of police academies. One of the best ways to prepare for stress is through inoculation. Timely responses and psychiatric support are important for officers who are managing stress.

Stress management tips for individuals:

  • Refrain from drinking alcohol to relieve stress.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle all year long as an approach to minimizing stress.
  • Choose your battles.
  • Say no if you have to.

Organizational stress management tips:

  • Set aside financial resources that can help you minimize employee stress.
  • Leaders are encouraged to address their efforts in managing workplace stress.
  • Police training academy resources should be regularly updated and upgraded.
  • Each recruit should be put through a position-fit analysis. This can help coordinate an individual’s capacity to execute certain job requirements.