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Stress Essay, Research Paper

Stress is a term used by many, is somewhat misunderstood, and often used to describe a negative condition or emotional state. People experience various forms of stress at home, work, in social settings, and when engaged in activities to simply have fun, such as playing sports. Police officer s experience stresses the same as others, but also in ways much different than the average citizen. The dangers, violence, and tragedy seen by officers result in added levels of stress not experienced by the general population.

What is Stress? Stress is not a new phenomenon; it has been experienced throughout history. Stress is a biological response to some stimulus. Fear, panic, anger, tragedy, and even something as simple as being competitive can cause it. Stress can result in the competitiveness needed to succeed in business, achieve an education, foster social relationships, and win at sports. Is stress bad or good? It is both. The proper level of stress can benefit people in daily living. Well, what is bad stress and what is good stress? Good stress is stress that you can manage. The stress of competing in athletic contests often works in your favor by stimulating performance. In police officers, stress can make the difference between injury or death, and going home at the end of the shift.

Police work, by its very nature, calls for an incredible amount of continual stress. The demands on police officers to show greater restraint has been increasing over the years has increased the effects of stress on police work. The police organization is very important in the lives of its officers and often creates stress unwittingly. Orders and regulations tend to sound oppressive in their pronouncements when they don’t need to. Poor communication causes chiefs and officers as much grief as anything. In short, the organization needs to remove its own problems before pointing at individual officers and putting all the blame on them creating stress.

If we take a quick overview of police work and look at the research we can see what are some the biggest stresses. Having you partner killed in the line of duty, lack of support by the department/bosses, shiftwork and disruption of family time/family rituals and the daily grind of dealing with the stupidity of the public (Adams 399). The police officer, under the stress of responding to an armed robbery or a break-in heightens their awareness of surroundings, increase the perception of sight, smell and sound, and draw on their training and experience in approaching the scene or searching a building creating stress (Adams 400). Interestingly, physical danger is ranked low on the list of stresses by police officers! A study of 2376 Buffalo NY police officers found that compared to the white male population police officers had higher mortality rates for cancer, suicide, and heart disease (Constant). Suicide is one of the worst effects that stress can have on police officers.

We are becoming all too familiar with police suicide especially with the attention it gets from the media. In New York City, twice as many police officers die by their own hand as do in the line of duty (Finn)! The suggested reason, higher stress levels. What is going on? Every study done points to the higher levels of stress police officers face, but what form does that stress take? With suicide there seem to be four factors: 1. Divorce 2. Alcohol – not alcoholism, that was one of the early theories, but in actuality it was the use of alcohol right before the act to “get up the nerve” 3. Depression 4. A failure to get help. (Most officers who commit suicide have no history of having sought counseling). All four factors are symptoms that can stem from an officer’s stress levels (Brown). An Officer who get in serious trouble on the job, suspended or facing termination is 7 times more likely to commit suicide.

Police suicide is more directly related to relationship problems than to job stress! Of the last 14 suicides among the police officers in New York City, 12, or 86%, had to do with divorce or relationship breakup (Brown). Police officers going through a divorce are 5 times more likely to commit suicide than officers in a stable marriage are! Relationship problems, however, are highly related to job stress. So we see that stress has a profound effect on police officers lives, especially their home lives. Studies have called police work a “high risk lifestyle (Brown).” Not high risk in terms of the physical dangers of the job, but high risk in terms of developing attitude problems, behavioral problems, and intimacy and relationship problems. According to an article on the Effects of Stress on Police Officers, by Peter Finn, M.A., if you ask the average cop “Hey, what’s been the scariest experience during your police career?” They will answer “My first marriage (Finn)!” All research shows police suffer a substantially higher divorce rate with estimates ranging from 60 to 75% (Finn). One of the casualties of police work is often the marriage. What can be done to limit stress? When the body can no longer defend against stress, biological responses can occur.

The medical community has attributed stress to such biological responses as heart malfunctions, blood pressure variations, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, pain, depression, muscular discomfort, strokes and a host of nervous system related problems (Adams 401). For the police officer, biological consequences can represent more long-term concerns, but the short-term results are the most profound. Stress of the magnitude that affects an officer s reaction time (increase or decrease) can seriously inhibit their ability to perform a vital action. An unrealistic increase could result in overreacting in confrontation situations, while a decrease in reaction time could result in an officer being injured or killed because a necessary action wasn’t taken quickly enough. Well, we know that stress adversely affects an officer s ability to perform their duties, so how can they learn to manage stress? Several techniques are recognized for managing stress. First, anytime stress becomes extreme or you are uncertain about how you feel, you are best advised to seek medical guidance from your physician. Other factors (including possible medical conditions) could be affecting your ability to deal with stress. The most common advice on managing stress is to avoid the stimulus that causes it. Although an effective solution, most often it is not the solution that can be sought, and sometimes seems to be ridiculous advice. But, if the cause of stress can be avoided, do it.

Other more practical options include exercise, sufficient rest, and proper diet. Staying psychologically fit means committing to take care of yourself. It takes work. The greater the stress, the greater the need to apply maximum thrust into this resistance! For the average person, possibly the hardest job of staying healthy is to admit that he/she has a problem. The second hardest feat is the willingness to get help.

Another and perhaps the most available and quickest way to deal with stress are to discuss it. Confide in a friend, relative, or fellow officer. This could provide spontaneous relief from some forms of stress. Police officers careers are centered on helping others, but they themselves have so much trouble accepting help. Police officers usually have professional help available to them. Many agencies provide counselors that officers can turn to for assistance. If this isn’t an option, many communities have stress counselors, most clergymen receive some training in this area, and police departments are now taking steps to help officers.

The Michigan State Police Behavioral Science Section trains both experienced and new sergeants every year in techniques to manage stress among officers (Finn). The section director designed the training to help sergeants respond in a manner that avoids creating additional stress for officers and reduces the inevitable stress that officer s experience from an actual incident. The trooper gives a personal account of what first-line supervisors should-and should not-do when addressing the needs of troopers who require counseling. The sergeants learn what to expect from an officer who has experienced a critical incident, and the section director explains the warning signs that should alert sergeants that counseling is necessary. The director of the Behavioral Science Section and another counselor also conduct 2-hour seminars for the agency’s executive and command staffs. During this training, the counselors focus on helping managers recognize how their own work styles can impact subordinates. The counselors then suggest ways that managers can motivate their personnel to be more productive.

Another approach is being taken in the Police Department in Buffalo, New York. The commissioner personally visits every police officer shot while on duty (Brown). If he cannot do so, he makes sure that his deputy or another command-level officer goes to provide support. Today most police departments recommend the chief executive officer and other commanders make it a matter of policy to pay hospital visits to every officer shot or involved in a serious accident. This easily implemented policy can have a profound effect not only on the injured officers but also on the department as a whole.

Everyone experiences stress. As any stress counselor would explain, a certain degree of stress is essential to a healthy, productive life. However, when stress impairs an individual’s ability to function properly, the sources of that stress must be eliminated or reduced. The bottom line is that police officers cannot afford to let stress get out of hand. Their lives, the lives of other officers and citizens depend on the ability to effectively respond under duress.


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