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First of all, stress is the body's reaction to internal and external stimuli that interferes with the body's normal state. It usually upsets this normal state. The stimuli that cause stress can be physical, mental, or emotional. The body has to react to stressful situations which are called the flight-or-fight response. ( ) Stress can weaken and disturb the body's defense mechanisms and may play a role in developing hypertension, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even cancer. ( )Stress by itself does not cause illness but it helps contribute to possible illnesses.
When people experience stress the body produces amounts of adrenaline which are released into the bloodstream. Adrenaline is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. This release of adrenaline causes the liver to provide the body with more carbohydrates for extra energy. It also causes a quickened heartbeat and respiration, as well as increased blood pressure and respiration. ( ) At this point the body is getting prepared for extraordinary physical exertion which is not a bad thing. It can be bad if the need for this exertion does not occur. If this exertion does not occur it can cause a headache, upset stomach, irritability, and other symptoms.
Police officers face many stressful situations during their job. Most jobs have high rates of stress but it has been said that police work is the most stressful out of all the jobs. There are four categories of stress that police officers face. These four categories are external, organization, personal, and operational stress. External stress is produced by real threats and dangers. External threats happen outside of the office. Some examples of this are gun runs and other dangerous activities that take part in auto pursuits. Organizational stress is produced by elements within a quasi-military character. ( ) This stress comes from within the organization. This can be a constant adjustment of changing duties, odd working hours, working holidays, and strict discipline imposed on officers. It can also be stress from workplace conditions, the lack of influence over work activities, and workplace prejudice.
Personal stress is produced by interpersonal characteristics of being in a police organization. Interpersonal means something involving two or more people. An example of this would be difficulties getting along with other officers. Lastly, operational stress is produced by the daily need to confront with the tragedies they face. These tragedies consist of the need to deal with derelicts, criminals, mentally disturbed, mentally ill, homeless individuals, and drug addicted. It also deals with engaging in dangerous activity to protect a public when they are unappreciative. Another thing it deals with is the awareness of being legally liable for the actions they performed on duty.
There are many factors that cause stress in police work. These factors are poor training, substandard equipment, poor pay, lack of opportunity, exposure to brutality, fears about job incompetence and safety, lack of job satisfaction, lack of physical fitness, and de-personalization. ( ) There is also pressure of being on duty 24 hours a day. The police learn to cope with stress by emotionally detaching themselves from their work and the people they serve. Another factor is fatigue. Police officers work long hours and also work overtime which can cause stress and physically drain them.
There is something known as suicide by cop, which is compounding the stress problems of officers. ( ) This usually means a person wishes to die deliberately. They will put themselves in a life threatening situation and cause the officer to use deadly force against them. This usually leaves the police officer with feelings of guilt and also of being tricked into using deadly force. It can also be portrayed by the media as the deceased being the victim, which is the complete opposite.
Some short-term effects are mentally replaying the event repeatedly, disruption of sleep, irritability and detachment, being hypercritical, sensory disturbance, and hyper vigilance. Another emotion is anger towards the subject for forcing them to use deadly force against the person. Some long-term effects are vulnerability, being more protective of the family, and being less trusting of the general public. Some officers interviewed considered retiring or quitting the department after being in situation like this. Sometimes officers involved in these killings suffer from post-shooting trauma, which can ruin their careers. They usually leave the department within 7 years and in some cases may commit suicide within 5 years. ( )
There are many effects that stress has on police officers. The first is that too much stress affects health. The fact that police officers must be ready for danger at all hours causes a great amount of stress, as well as the working hours and living conditions. These all have negative effects on their health. According to A National Institute of Justice report some other consequences of being a police officer that causes stress are cynicism and suspiciousness, emotional detachment from aspects of daily life, reduced efficiency, absenteeism and early retirement, excessive aggressiveness, alcoholism and other substance abuse problems, marital or other family problems, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide. ( )There are also specific health issues such as heart attacks, ulcers, weight gain, and other health problems. An early study 2,300 police officers in 20 U.S. police departments revealed that 37% had serious marital problems, 36% had health problems, 23% had alcohol problems, 20% had problems with their children, and 10% had drug problems. ( ).
Another issue is job-related personal change and family relationships. With officer facing tragedies it affects them personally. This could also affect the family if the officer's personality and attitudes change. There are also a high demands and expectations from the community. The public hold police officers to very high standards and expect them to solved everything and be available all the time. The last issue is intrusion into family life. A police officer may have to bring parts of his/her job home. An example of this could be his/her gun or the fact that they have to be available 24 hours each day.
There are multiple ways in which departments deal with police stress. The first way is that they provide stress management programs to officers and to their spouses. They identify officers who are under stress and provide them counseling to help relieve the stress. They also conduct periodic screenings and training on stress management. Lastly, they provide confidential counseling services to officers and their families.
Stress can cause police officers to turn to alcohol and even suicide. Police suicide has been increasing. According to the book, every 17 hours an officers kills himself or herself. 97% of officers use their own weapons to commit the suicide. Alcohol for many officers is a way to relax after a long day, to others it is a way to cope with anxiety or depression.
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