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April 28, 2014
Police officer deaths spark conversation about mental health and stress. Are your employees at risk?

An apparent murder-suicide of a police officer couple in Indiana is raising questions about mental health issues among emergency responders. What happened in this case, and what are the implications for other employees? Learn more here.

The case involved Sgt. Ryan Anders and Officer Kim Carmack, a divorced couple who were found dead in an Indianapolis home earlier this week. According to news reports, Carmack had obtained a protective order against Anders, who was on administrative leave related to a domestic violence issue.

In discussing the tragic case, Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs noted the intense stress on officers and the reluctance of some to seek mental health help. Although it’s too late for this couple, the city’s Department of Public Safety is at work on a comprehensive community health program for its employees.

The effort is an attempt to reach those who may not wish to participate in an existing employee assistance program. According to the department, police officers, especially those who are married to each other, present special challenges in counseling and in investigating domestic issues. In the case of the deceased couple, Anders allegedly knew he was facing internal and criminal charges that could possibly end his career and send him to prison.

What causes police officer stress?

A NIOSH Science Blog post presented findings of a study of police officers conducted by NIOSH and the University of Buffalo. It noted, “Although policing is a psychologically stressful work environment, filled with danger, high demands, ambiguity in work encounters, human misery, and exposure to death, its influences on the psychological well-being and physical health of officers needs further research.”

The research (known as the BCOPS study) found that:

  • The presence of symptoms of depression was nearly double for police officers as for the general population.
  • The higher the officers’ stress levels, the worse they slept.
  • Stress (caused by organizational pressure and lack of support, among other factors) was associated with metabolic syndrome in female officers. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by abdominal obesity, hypertension, reduced “good” cholesterol, and other conditions.

Other research indicates that work-related factors that cause stress for law enforcement officers are similar to those affecting other employees. The factors include:

  • Poor management,
  • Inadequate or broken equipment,
  • Excessive overtime,
  • Frequent rotating shifts, and
  • Regular changes in duties.

Nonwork stressors include:

  • Family problems,
  • Financial issues,
  • Health concerns, and
  • The need to take a second job for extra income.
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