Mental Health Services for Law Enforcement Officers

Mental Health Services for Law Enforcement Officers

Abstract

Routine mental health screening of the law enforcement officers is important in ensuring the officers undertake their duties diligently. Evidence suggests that law enforcement officers are always subjected to many forms of stress, including anticipatory, physical, and psychosocial stress. In the police force in United States, there is a notion that any law enforcement officer who seeks mental health services might be unfit for office. Inconsistency in the sessions greatly reduces the efficiency of the mental health services sessions. In order to increase the efficiency of law enforcement officers in their operations, they must have readily available access to mental health services. It is vital for law enforcement agencies to take seriously the mental health state of its officers. Mental well-being of law enforcement officers has a strong positive correlation to efficiency in undertaking their duties. Law enforcement agencies should come up with policies that will create awareness of mental health among its officers. This will change the misinformed perception that most law enforcement officers have when it comes to mental health services.

Introduction

Routine mental health screening of the law enforcement officers is important in ensuring the officers undertake their duties diligently. Evidence suggests that law enforcement officers are always subjected to many forms of stress, including anticipatory, physical, and psychosocial stress (Chan & Andersen, 2020). All these forms of stress usually have an emotional toll on the enforcement officers impacting their mental well-being. Without routine mental screening, these forms of stress usually spill over to their work and affect reduces their efficiency. Katelyn K. Jetelina, a professor of human genetics and environmental science claimed that law enforcement officers are usually exposed to traumatic calls for service from the citizens on a daily basis, including child abuse, homicides and other violent crimes (Chan & Andersen, 2020). She further claimed that repeated exposure to such stressors usually lead to the development of mental illnesses such as depression anxiety, and somatization.

Studies have shown that law enforcement officers do not have adequate access to seek mental health services. Most officers usually claim that confidentiality is one reason they shy away from going for mental screening. Law enforcement officers usually fear their insecurities and mental challenges coming out to their superiors since it might lead to them being demoted or suspended indefinitely (Crippen, 2018). This has really impacted the effectiveness of law enforcement officers while undertaking their duties. Rather than battling the vices that they are called for, they as well battle their mental illnesses which in most times leads to errors in judgment. Perfect example of this is the widespread use of brutal force by law enforcement officers in situations where excessive force was not necessary.

In the police force in United States, there is a notion that any law enforcement officer who seeks mental health services might be unfit for office (Crippen, 2018).  Such notions make it very difficult for mental health services to penetrate the law enforcement agencies. Most law enforcement officers will avoid going for mental health screening since they might be terminated from job or rather be ridiculed by their colleagues. This factor greatly impacts the mental well-being of law enforcement officers. Studies have shown that most law enforcement officers believe that psychologists are not able to relate with their profession hence they would not get any meaningful help from mental health screening (Crippen, 2018). When mental health screenings are organized, the law enforcement officers boycotts the entire activity while the few who decide to go portray a condescending attitude towards the mental health experts. They are usually uncooperative which in turn reduces the efficiency of the process.

Studies have shown that most law enforcement lack in-depth education and familiarity of mental health education (Price, 2017). Most of the officers usually exhibit symptoms of mental illness, but are unaware that they have the mental illness. There is little investment among the law enforcement agencies when t comes to matters mental health. The superiors in the agencies are usually rigid when it comes to raising awareness among the officers about mental health. This limits the access of mental health services to the law enforcement officers. Studies have shown that in disciplined forces, the junior officers usually follow the example set by the senior officers regardless the implications.

Studies have shown that most law enforcement officers have claimed that being the frequent focus of public attention and criticism has made them avoid seeking mental health services (Price, 2017). They claim that there is a perception that the public has about them hence they would be not comfortable sharing their weaknesses to a civilian who in this case is the mental health expert. They are usually apprehensive since they suspect that their confessions will be used against them even if their anonymity is upheld. Few law enforcement claimed that their unpredictable schedules make it hard for them to have consistent sessions with mental health experts (Price, 2017). Inconsistency in the sessions greatly reduces the efficiency of the mental health services sessions. In order to increase the efficiency of law enforcement officers in their operations, they must have readily available access to mental health services.

Problem Statement

The importance of linking mental health and efficiency of law enforcement officers has long been recognized among the advanced nations. Making mental health services available to law enforcement officers is one way of improving their overall mental health. There is need for proper understanding on the influence that mental health has on efficiency in law enforcement officers.

Research Question

Significance of the Study

The study will help to outline the importance of mental health when it comes to effective service delivery of law enforcement officers. The study will help law enforcement officers to know the importance of mental well-being.

 

Methods

Data Collection

Semi-structured Interviews

This method of data collection was used to obtain and in-depth picture of how the law enforcement officers viewed mental health and how it general affects their performance at work. I formed critical questions that guided the interview in regards to the topic of mental health. Semi-structured interviews ensured that I got qualitative and open-minded data which gave me an easy time when I was analyzing. I was able to get the real thoughts and feelings of the participants in regards to mental health services.

The issue of mental health services is susceptible and the participants would not be comfortable talking about such matters in public hence the use of semi-structured interviews. The interviews lasted a maximum of 30 minutes for each participant.

Sampling

Purposeful Sampling

Participants for this study were recruited through a Facebook advert since it is the only social media platform that accommodates law enforcement officers of all ages that I was interested in. The advert was specific in terms of the qualified participants; one had to be current serving or former law enforcement officer between the ages of 20 to 40 years. In the advert I stated that the interview would be semi-structured and the participants would be fully provided with information sheets and consent forms before commencing the interview.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has engulfed the world since early last year, all the interviews were conducted virtually through the use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype. In cases where they would be uncomfortable with their images appearing, I would use phone calls for the interview. Sampling took place on Facebook and only the qualified individuals were contacted and given the exact dates and times for the interviews.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

  • Participants in the study must be current or former law enforcement officers.
  • Participants had to be between the age of 20 and 40 years.
  • Rookies were not allowed to take part in the study
  • Participant’s gender was not of importance.

Data Analysis

Since the engagement was purely narrative based, I used narrative analysis to analyze the data that I obtained from the respondents. From the narrative of the current and former law enforcement officers who were the participants in the study, I came up with the results and findings between the relationship between mental health and efficiency in service delivery.

Ethics Assessment and Management

Since the discussion carried sensitive topics to discuss, a participant was free to ask the interview to be stopped without giving a reason. Whenever a participant needed to take a small breather, I stopped the interview and gave them time to recollect themselves. The emotional well-being of the participants of the study was paramount during the entire process of the interview. I was keen on observing any traumatizing events and skipped the questions that brought the flashbacks

Results

All participants alluded to the fact that the various physical demands of the work involved in law enforcement usually have emotional toll on them. The participants who were currently in law enforcement claimed that they develop mental illnesses such as depression due to stress involved with the work. Officers are usually at risk of encountering incidences that would force them to use a lot force which usually in the end makes them look bad in the eyes of the public. Such criticism due to the physical demand throws them into a hole mentally where their problems cannot be understood by any person who is not in the force. Some participants claimed the fear of the unknown usually makes them use excessive force since t is usually hard to determine the intentions of the person being arrested.

Anxiety affects their daily activities because they always view themselves as targeted people. Majority of the participants claimed that this led them to making errors in judgment while undertaking their duties. One participant claimed that while responding low risk calls, she has ever used excessive force due to anxiety in the end she served suspension due to her actions. She claimed during the incidence, she could not control, herself from using excessive force. She claimed that the high stress related with the job made her develop anxiety although she has never taken any medication or treatment in regards to her condition.

The participants who were out of law enforcement either through early retirement or being dismissed claimed that they experienced improved quality of life outside the force due to the less stress involved in other professions that they were in. One participant further claimed that he was enjoying himself more at the moment in his current work because of the less scrutiny from everyone from the media to the public. Constant scrutiny usually leaves the law enforcement officers in a quagmire whereby they have to choose between upholding the good public image or carrying their work diligently in accordance to the law. This usually has an impact on their mental health in turn leading to reduced efficiency in undertaking their duties as law enforcement officers.

Participants who were well informed about mental health and the importance of mental health screening exhibited high enthusiasm about their work. They regularly went for mental health services in order to improve their mental well-being. This helped them in dealing with complex situations that they encounter in their undertakings. They claimed to have better ways of dealing with difficult characters during arresting without breaking any law. They claimed that since they started going for mental health screening, their level of patience improved. Studies have shown that patience and restraint among law enforcement officers usually improves their efficiency in undertaking their duties.

Discussion

Mental health awareness should be carried out by all law enforcement agencies. This will change the perception that law enforcement officers have when it comes to mental health services.  One way of creating awareness is through Bills like the Washington State HB 1000 which aims to bridge the gaps that law enforcement officers face when they seek mental health services (Chan & Andersen, 2020). This will greatly improve the mental well-being of officers and it would in turn improve their overall efficiency when undertaking their duties. Law enforcement officers will be better equipped with tackling emotionally draining situations that they would find themselves in. this will significantly reduce the errors in judgment.

All law enforcement agencies should adapt policies that allow their officers to freely express their feelings at the workplace without the fear of ridicule or demotion by authority. This will reduce instances of law enforcement officers contemplating suicide due the stress levels associated with the job. From my findings and as well from studies carried out in this field, most officers usually fear opening up about their mental struggles since it would be met with negative energies from their colleagues and the entire agency (Soomro & Yamos, 2019).

Studies have shown that law enforcement officers who leave the force usually experience improve quality of life. From my study, this is los true. Most of the officers who leave usually claim that the major scrutiny that is involved in law enforcement by the media and general public usually gives them anxiety and other mental illnesses (Ramey et al., 2017). Law enforcement agencies should introduce mandatory trainings to all the law enforcement officers that would help them to deal with   such scrutiny. This would greatly help with their mental well-being. Being open about mental health among law enforcement officers will help move the field of mental health forwards. At the moment, most law enforcement agencies are usually rigid when it comes to mental health issues of their officers due to the perceived picture that it would portray (Violanti et al., 2019).

The major strength of my study is that the identities of my participants would remain anonymous. This made them to give accurate and honest information in regards to mental health and efficiency that impacts their daily activities. One weakness in my study is that, the former law enforcement officers would be tempted to give false information so that they can be seen as high achievers since leaving the force.

Conclusion

From the study, it is vital for law enforcement agencies to take seriously the mental health state of its officers. Mental well-being of law enforcement officers has a strong positive correlation to efficiency in undertaking their duties. Law enforcement agencies should come up with policies that will create awareness of mental health among its officers. This will change the misinformed perception that most law enforcement officers have when it comes to mental health services. The factors listed will improve the efficiency of law enforcement officers when it comes to undertaking their duties.

Appendix

MENTAL HEALTH EFFECT: SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE

  1. Opening
  2. My name is ……..and I am conducting this interview as part of my research for my school project.
  3. I would like to ask you some questions about mental health services and how it relates to efficiency at while undertaking your duties. I would also like to know your personal view of mental health services
  4. I hope to use this information to examine the relationship between mental health and its effect on efficiency while undertaking your service
  5. The interview should take about 30 minutes. Are you available to answer to some questions for the duration?

Transition: I will start by confirming some details about your age and whether you are currently a law enforcement officer or a former law enforcement officer.

  1. Body
  2. What was the experience like while undertaking stressful operations?
  3. How would you describe your mental well-being?
  4. Does your leadership structure take mental well-being seriously?
  5. Have you ever received backlash for sharing your insecurities and fears?
  6. How would you compare life inside the force and outside the force/?

Transition: Well, it has been a pleasure! Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. Let me briefly recap the information that I have recorded during our interview.

  • Closing
  1. Yours shared experiences recording will be analysed and reported in my findings anonymously.
  2. I appreciate the time you took for this interview, is there anything else you think would be helpful for me to know that can be used in my research?
  3. Thank you again for participating in my research. If you have any questions about the study, you may contact me on ………..or the study supervisor ……….
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