Stress and Suicide in Law Enforcement Populations Term Paper

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Stress and Suicide in Law Enforcement Populations

The paper is an understanding of what stress could have on law enforcement officials. The factors which cause stress for law enforcement officials are varied ranging from personal life issues, the pressures of work, the public response towards police job, the entire criminal law system and the entire rules and procedures involved in the law system. If this stress is not alleviated then the officers start reacting in negative ways. The biggest stress on most police officers is suicide. The numbers of police officers that face death by committing suicide are very high when compared to those who are killed when they are on duty. During 1934 and 1960 the suicide rates of the police officers were nearly half of the general population. But then from 1980 to the current date this situation has changed so drastically that the death rates as to suicide has nearly doubled. The number of police suicide may vary every year but there is a general consensus that the police commit more suicide then the actual general public.

It is essential that police officials understand the importance of all these factors and take measures with the help of various policies and programs to be able to reduce the stress faced by them. If suicide among police is to be avoided, then it would be imperative for those who know and work with them to not only increase their alertness about the intensity of the problem but also to learn the checking and interfering steps to take and when to take them. When stress related problems begin to appear, training serves as an important tool to assist officers and non-sworn personnel comprehend the significance of asking for support. Social and family life can be aided in several ways. The police personnel must look into the various ways to support officers to discharge their duties as effectively as possible as there is continued pressure on law enforcement agencies to accomplish the increasing complicated functions with tight resources.

Discussion- Stress and suicide in law enforcement populations

In every stage of life a human being has to go through a period where one gets affected by stress and has to find means of dealing with the issue. While defining stress we can say that it is basically the way the body responds to certain anxieties that occur out of the blue which ultimately turn out to be either pleasant or even unpleasant and the stress could be emotional or may also affect physically. This stress that is imposed on the individual can be borne by him to a certain level and this depends on each individual. This reaction depends on each individual's internal depiction and the way he reacts to the external issues that actually are defined by his personality, his beliefs, values and other previous experiences. But this stress can cause damage when the individual facing it cannot handle it at that moment.

The most obvious way of reacting badly to stress is by giving a defensive reaction when under pressure, but there would be no change in the circumstances or thoughts of the individual, they will only cause a harmful change in the person's behavior and probably even his physical health. When the stress is unbearable and extreme it would go to the even have an affect the individuals' judgment, emotional control, logical thinking, and even his extent of perception. But in various jobs the deterioration of these faculties will not really have an affect on the worker's working ability. But in certain other jobs, like that of a police officer such a situation would be of great importance. (Spielberger, 1981)

The stress faced by the police and their level of suicide is not a matter that can be ignored. But various researchers and officials of criminal justice have come to the conclusion over the past 25 years that stress factors are most evident in law enforcement officers. On account of the present day situation, it is true that the individuals involved in law enforcement are the individuals who are most affected by these situations of stress and it is found that they experience various after effects like divorces, alcoholism, suicide and along with all this they also face other problems which affect them both emotionally and even affect their health. (Ayres, 1981) Being a police officer demands a lot out of them, especially in terms of restraint. They need to have an unbelievable amount of restraint and hence this proves to be stressful to them.

During the span of these years, the pressures on police officers have increased and so have the effects of stress on their work. Considering the fact that people now have started to understand the problems that the police officers face in terms of stress, and the treatments available for it, it still has not solved the problem and many officers feel that their job has become even more stressful if at all. This can be due to many factors- the increase in crimes over the years since 1980 to 1990, the apparent increase in negative publicity, public scrutiny, law suits and moreover fiscal uncertainty, constant fear of various air borne and blood borne disease like AIDS and tuberculosis, various rising racial issues and also transferring from reactive to problem oriented policing.

The factors which cause stress in the lives of the law enforcement officials can be divided into five major categories - which are varied ranging from his personal life issues, the pressures of the work of law enforcement, the public response towards police job, the entire criminal law system and the entire rules and procedures involved in the law system. There are some individuals who feel that all the danger and the tension that law officer's face is only true to ones depicted in books, movies, television, i.e. The danger and the tension they face in their field to be their cause for stress but this is not true as the most familiar tension or stress faced by these individuals is usually related to the policies and procedures of the various law enforcement agencies itself. (Nedbank ISS Crime Index, 2000)

Stress could be caused due to numerous reasons for a police official. It could also be the fact that it is caused by the individual's superiors or probably his subordinates who lack discipline and are in turn the cause for the individual stress. Most individuals who are facing stress usually cannot divulge their thoughts to a friend or colleague, because of unnecessary and unwanted reactions, which would arise from within the department. Research has been conducted which proves that an officer who has served for nearly six to ten years shows signs of having a high level of stress present in them. (Violanti & Aron, 1995)

When it comes to a police job, individuals who face psychological problems are not well treated with the necessary amount of kindness and hence most officers are scared of losing their job and also would not like face strong feelings of shame and embarrassment and this can actually all be related to the stress that originates from their police work. Keeping all this factors in mind, it is true that stress shall always be a part of police work. But at the same time, even other problems causing stress like alcohol, relationship problem, and easy accessibility to a firearm are the major reasons that contribute to a great level to crime, corruption and suicide levels among police officials, but it is the police customs that ignore these facts and do not accept the problem and think of it as a dishonor to the individual and to the profession on the whole. (Ivanoff, 1994)

In most law enforcements these days, the fact that their kind of work may actually take an effect on the police officers and hence ultimately leading to them taking shelter in counseling services has been slowly approached. But for most officers to accept this is still a long process and a long way to go. This is because of a various obvious reason. Gene Sanders, a Californian-based police psychologist, has stated that nearly twice the number of police officers face death by committing suicide in comparison to those who are killed when they are on duty. (Millard, 2000) She also stated that in areas like New York and San Francisco this ratio would probably be higher. She also said that the ones who require beholding the law have more chances to get display signs of hyper vigilance, control issues, compulsive addictive behavior and also show symptoms of marital and family disorders and also exhibit various signs of post traumatic disorders.

Keeping this in mind it would be presumed that there would be a group of psychologist or social service workers who would like to help this individuals out from their problems, but the fact that these individuals are mostly bad stereotypes and have varied work style could have partially contributed to the lack of…

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