Dr. Carrie Steiner
Depression & Policing
Officer safety alert, more officers kill themselves than are killed in the line of duty (Miller, 2005). Depression increases the chance of suicide. If you want to support your brothers and sisters, become aware of the risks and help prevent other officers from experiencing this tragedy. Don’t sustain the stigma, support mental health prevention and participation by getting or encouraging others to get help.
Officers are often told by their coworkers, “Be careful out there”, “Don’t let your guard down”, and “People are out to get you”. For officer safety, this is extremely important. However, taking these thoughts into our personal lives all of the time can cause more negative feelings about others, to the point of projecting these feelings those we care about or even on ourselves. If an officer is always thinking that ‘others are bad’ and ‘the world is bad’, it should not surprise us that studies find approximately 12% of officers have clinical depression compared to only 6.8% for the general population (Ruderman Family Foundation, 2018). Further, officers are often responding to negative outcomes, from accidents to aggression, which can increase depressive symptoms. It is hard not to see the world as a bad place when you are only responding to negative situations and circumstances. It is also common to feel helpless as an officer, unable to change negative situations or prevent them. All of these stressors can impact an officer’s mood and change their world view and day-to-day functioning. Further, officers have to cope with their own personal struggles, internal agency politics, negative media attention, threats to their person, etc. which also can increase their overall stress, force biochemical changes, and adversely impact resiliency. To determine if you may have depression ask yourself the following questions: Do you…
Feel sad and hopeless most days?
Have a lack of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation?
Withdraw from others and not enjoy others?
Have negative thoughts about yourself?
Have trouble concentrating & making decisions?
Misuse alcohol or partake is unnecessary risks?
Often feel restless, agitated, and irritable?
Feel hopeless, like life will never get better?
Sleep more than usual?
Often feel irritability, anger and/or rage over insignificant things?
Have thoughts of suicide?
If you are having 3 or more of these symptoms on an ongoing basis, it is time to give serious consideration to seeking assistance. A therapist or doctor can have you fill out depression questionnaires and/or do a clinical interview to determine if you have clinical depression. They can also help you to better cope with your stressors. If you do have clinical depression, there are many options including therapy, behavioral modifications (i.e. exercise, eating healthy, proper sleep) and medication that can be helpful. Remember that an anti-depressant is not part of random drug testing and does not prevent you from working as a police officer. There are many officers who currently take anti-depressants on the job and who are functioning much better than they did when they were not medicated.
Depression is an officer safety issue, don’t let you or your partner not have back up. Encourage mental health treatment and prevention.
Miller, L. (2005). “Police officer suicide: causes, prevention, and practical intervention strategies”, International journal of emergency health, 7, 2, 101-14.