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Prioritizing Officer Mental Health

Law enforcement officers and correctional officers face high-stress situations every day. The stress and trauma that result from working in a 24/7 profession that regularly requires officers to interact with people under some of the worst possible circumstances highlight the need for focusing on officer wellness.

Stress can lead to poor performance and diminished physical skills. Impacts can range from mild to severe, including:

- Headaches

- Irritability or anger

- Fatigue

- Social withdrawal

Long-term exposure to stressful situations can cause cumulative stress and ultimately lead to burnout. Officers may exhibit burnout by adopting more cynical attitudes to their work and the public and insulating themselves from the emotional exhaustion of repeated exposure to stressful situations. Extreme stress can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How can officers prioritize their mental health to avoid negative outcomes?

To build resilience, officers can develop a strong social network in which to confide. Limiting consumption of nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol is important, as well as maintaining a good diet and getting enough rest. When day-to-day stress builds, exercise can help officers unwind.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every officer. By practicing good self-care, officers can improve their resilience. Importantly, when an officer’s personal actions are not enough, they should seek help. Supportive peers and good leaders recognize that mental health is a priority. If you are struggling with stress or after a traumatic event, be transparent with your supervisor or social network, use a agency’s employee assistance program, and/or seek out professional counseling.

Interested in learning more mental health tips?

PLS offers police online self-study legal, technical, and interpersonal skills training link: on a wide variety of practical issues—including mental health training—to help police officers make good decisions in challenging situations.

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