The 2017 Emotional Health Wellness Conference was all about the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act. The organizers of the event were pleased to see that the venue was packed with police officers and other participants who were there to learn more about mental health. Organizations presented case studies of programs that were aimed to focus on mental health conditions that law enforces are affected with because of their job. Their families were also there to support them and listen to the knowledge imparted to them so that they, too, can help their partners or family members cope with their daily challenges. The speakers were glad to announce that the United States Congress has taken steps to improve the availability of mental health services for all law enforces in the country.
Law enforcers are under a lot of fatigue and stress because of the nature of their work. Let us now examine how and how they experience mental health problems as they face different stressors every day.
Law enforcers typically work for long periods in their constantly changing environments that may cause tremendous physical and psychological stress. Struggling with fatigue for an extended period may cause chronic fatigue syndrome. This health condition is described as an extreme type of fatigue that isn’t cured with rest and continues to get worst with mental and physical activity. Fatigue impairs a law enforcer’s physical and mental abilities, limits job performance, damages his health and ultimately creates a cycle of fatigue.
The Cycle of Fatigue
The process of fatigue arises mainly from lack of sleep – both the number of hours and the quality of sleep. Law enforcement officers lack sleep when there is a break in their circadian rhythm, which is the sleep/wake cycle that all living things possess to have good health. These circadian rhythms affect an individual’s physiological and behavioral processes. Factors like noise or even daylight help regulate his circadian rhythms, producing a range of internal responses that lead to waking and sleeping. Changes in these factors impact the individual’s view physically and mentally. An example of that is experiencing jet lag.
As the breaks in one’s circadian rhythms, progress, mental and physical fatigue may eventually develop. The fatigue affects the individual’s physical and mental health and subsequently affects his ability to handle stressful encounters. For law enforcers, this will cause the cycle of fatigue to begin, and it decreases their capacity to do their job efficiently.
Causes of Law Enforcer Fatigue and Stress
Going through stress for a long time can cause depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a mental illness characterized by an incapacity to have a good sleep, an increased incidence of nightmares, and experiencing feelings of guilt and fear when he remembers a tragic event. For the law enforcer, stress can cause fatigue to get worst to the point that his ability to make decisions soundly is also impaired. Soon, he won’t be able to protect himself or the people that need his protection.
Work-related factors causing stress and fatigue for law enforcers include excessive hours of work, poor work and time management, changes in duties, and constant work shift changes. Individual factors, on the other hand, include financial, family, and health problems, and lastly, taking extra jobs to earn more income.
How Health is Affected by Fatigue
Fatigue affects a law enforcer’s mental health by impairing his judgment, increasing mood changes, increasing depression and anxiety levels, and increasing his chances of developing a mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder or PTSD.
On the other hand, fatigue affects a law enforcer’s physical health by causing him weight gain or weight loss, decreasing coordination skills, experiencing pain and other gastrointestinal problems, or developing cardiovascular diseases like congestive heart failure or arteriosclerosis.
How to Prevent Fatigue in Law Enforcement
Law enforcers typically do not talk about how fatigue or stress impacts their lives. Most, if not all, of them have a code of silence about strain and stress that come with the whole police work. For most law enforcers, the culture of the enforcement seems to acknowledge that fatigue is part of the job. Additionally, their bosses do not believe that working too many hours doesn’t affect enforcers’ physical and mental health. These enforcers risk their health just to earn extra income.
However, some law enforcement agencies are doing something to help avoid officer fatigue. Some of these things include:
Giving law enforcers time to go on vacation
Encouraging them to do physical activities that promote wellness
Not implementing mandatory overtime
Discouraging them from finding other jobs
Using digital devices and other technologies that help them reduce work stress. These devices include a call-in reporting system and laptops to write their reports on.
Providing them enough time to process their paperwork on their calls for services.