Destigmatize Mental Health in Police Force

Nandini Agarwal

December 9, 2022

In a world full of problems, we are able to sleep soundly every night, knowing we are not in danger. If we face a traumatic event, we are given several options for taking care of our mental health. Our life gets easier because we trust the police to look after us during a threatening situation.  

Now, imagine yourself as a police officer. You have to face consistent stress and deal with numerous psychologically traumatic events. You are seen as a tough person but mentally you feel exhausted because of the work pressure. To protect your show of strength, you do not opt to go to a psychologist or discuss your stress levels with colleagues. The option you choose is to internalize the stress and just move on with life. What are the results you think you will get with time? 

The stats from a survey [4] show 47% of law enforcement officers tested positive for PTSD. This is approximately 10 times greater than what is seen in the general population. Further, 29% of the sample are screened with a moderate to very severe range of anxiety, which is 2 times greater compared to the general population. Lastly, 37% of them were diagnosed with a moderate to very severe range of depression. This is around 5 times more than the prevalence seen in the general population. These are results from an online survey where a total of 1,355 law enforcement officers across the United States, participated, but there are numerous more, undiagnosed!

Statistics from the online survey in the United States [4]

What is the problem?

This is an alarming crisis! The government has saved funds to support first responders’ mental health but the problem still prevails. To understand the root cause of this issue, an interview was conducted with police service members in Canada, to recognize the barriers they face when seeking mental health treatments [3]. Three major barriers were identified: 

  1. Stigma
  2. Confidentiality 
  3. Being judged by their community for going to similar mental health services that they usually send civilians in 

Stigma is a problem that is not easily solvable. There is a constant fear of being judged especially when there is a worry that seeing mental health will make them look less competent and weak, thereby reducing their promotional opportunities. 

Jake, a police officer with nine years of service says, “There seems to be, still, this risk to anybody to come forward that they get labeled as broken, and never fixable. And, also, potentially the impact to them professionally for coming forward, right?” His concern is that seeking help could have lasting effects on an officer’s career [3]. 

Trust in confidentiality automatically becomes a problem knowing the cost of stigma attached to mental health care in the police department. Many reported that if their colleagues would know about them seeking care, they would be deemed unreliable when responding to critical incidents.

Stan, a police officer with 19 years of experience says, “I think always in the back of everyone’s mind and I dunno if it’s particular to policing or whatever, is if I call EAP [Employee Assistance Program] for something, what’s really gonna happen? You know? Is it going to be flagged? Am I gonna somehow be tied in? Is there gonna be something in my file, is there something.” [3]

Being judged by their community as well adds to their lack of confidence in seeking help!

Elaine, a communicator with 19 years of service says, “I think it’s hard for people to go to a place that they get help at that, sometimes we’re arresting people under the Mental Health Act and taking them to that hospital. Like oh, ‘There’s Jim Bob who’s crazier than a nut, and now I’m going to the same place.’ Like the stigma behind that.” [3]

Proposed Solutions

Looking at how deep the problem is engrained, the best solution would be to ask the officers what they think would work best for them! In the same study, 3 main suggestions were listed by the majority of officers that could improve current mental health support [3]. 

  1. Ensuring confidentiality
  2. Providing them with easily accessible and uncomplicated electronic sources for mental health support
  3. Giving access to stress-specific resources

 These three suggestions could be achieved by:

  •  Providing online assistance to a coach/psychologist.
  •  A personal profile could be created for them on a healthcare app that could draft exercises for them according to their specific needs!
  • The biofeedback feature could be included to track their progress.
  •  The entire department could have monthly workshops where they “together” learn self-help skills like breathing techniques, journaling, meditation, and mindfulness.

These are a few examples from a pool of ideas!

A Vision

Let’s think outside the box for a moment. What if biofeedback was paired with their training sessions? This could help them control their stress levels during a demanding situation which in turn could improve their decision-making skills in critical times

Biofeedback is a technique where a device measures our body’s functions, such as heart rate. It then tells us that information that can further help us take control of it [1].  

This “outside the box idea” is not my original, unfortunately. The good thing is that Jan C. Brammer and his colleagues developed biofeedback training using virtual reality (VR), which induced a stressful environment [1]. The Dutch police participated in it and made a cool video (in Dutch) to show you how it works! Watch it via this link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VETslwU-lys 

The idea of getting biofeedback during training is promising since the officers will be able to transfer these skills better in real-life situations. Achieving this using a VR might not be convenient but there could be different ways of solving this issue, for example- using Glimp Pebbles.

Conclusion

It is disheartening to see fewer people applying for the police job, every year, as mental health is becoming a major issue in this department. There is a long gap between receiving care and witnessing a traumatic event, which makes things worse in different aspects of life. As was reported in the statistics in a survey conducted by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), the average score for overall job satisfaction was only 4/10, where 84% of them complained about having fewer officers to do the job and 82% of them experienced stress, anxiety and overall degrading wellbeing [3].

Statistics in the survey conducted by PFEW [3]

Our goal is to change these statistics and give back help to the police for keeping us protected and safe. Mental health is a worldwide problem and no corners of it should be left unchecked. 

 

Glimp works hard to change these statistics. Glimp Pebbles* are designed to add personalization and situation-specific exercises to overcome this problem. You can always contact us to help you catch your breath, especially in times of stress. Until then, stay mindful and help those in need of support.

*Glimp Pebbles - are hand-held devices that provide guided breathing exercises through haptic and auditory feedback. It is designed to give you biofeedback as well!

Sources:

  • [1] Brammer, J. C., van Peer, J. M., Michela, A., van Rooij, M. M. J. W., Oostenveld, R., Klumpers, F., Dorrestijn, W., Granic, I., & Roelofs, K. (2021). Breathing Biofeedback for Police Officers in a Stressful Virtual Environment: Challenges and Opportunities. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.586553
  • [2] Demand, capacity & welfare. Police Federation. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.polfed.org/support/demand-capacity-welfare/ 
  • [3] Newell, C. J., Ricciardelli, R., Czarnuch, S. M., & Martin, K. (2021). Police staff and Mental Health: Barriers and recommendations for improving help-seeking. Police Practice and Research, 23(1), 111–124. https://doi.org/10.1080/15614263.2021.1979398
  • [4] Survey: What is the state of officer mental health in 2020? (n.d.). Police1. https://www.police1.com/health-wellness/articles/survey-what-is-the-state-of-officer-mental-health-in-2020-oXldKxzNnuebFluY/

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