According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, working as a full-time law enforcement officer in the American inner city can be as traumatic as combat service in the military. More than 600 police officers are forced to retire early each year because of psychological disability. A career in law enforcement can involve the constant danger of physical harm and mental damage from witnessing life-threatening situations. Post-traumatic stress disorder is tragically common among officers in Illinois.
Hazards of urban police work
Even for the most stable and well-trained officers, urban law enforcement work can be grueling. Police must deal with multiple robberies, rapes, assaults and murders on a weekly or even daily basis. In some cases, they must rescue children in traumatic situations or witness scenes of immense physical damage. This steady exposure to violence and trauma can result in severe psychological harm, up to and including full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.
How do police officers react to acute stress?
The long process of law enforcement training and development is only a limited safeguard against the hazards of the job. Officers who find themselves overwhelmed by the acute stress of work may turn to one or more of these common coping mechanisms:
- Withdrawal from family members
- Unwillingness to speak about experiences on the job, even to close friends or medical professionals
- Persistent refusal to take temporary leave, even in the face of severe job-related difficulties
- Seeking the “rush” of severe danger, even at the cost of personal safety
For many law enforcement professionals, it can be difficult to recount their experiences or ask for help because they feel that outsiders cannot understand the intense bond of danger they have shared with colleagues during their time on duty.
How can traumatized officers find their way back to health?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is no longer a taboo topic. Police departments have begun working with mental health professionals and military experts to find solutions to acute job-related stress in active duty personnel. Law enforcement officers should remember that they are entitled to workers’ compensation under Illinois law. If a psychological disorder can be traced to conditions on the job, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission will provide full benefits as employees recover and begin to rebuild their lives.
DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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