Police Officer Health and the “Type D” Personality

There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about the increased heart attack risk of people with “Type -D” personalities.  An article about a recent study (actually a compilation of 19 studies) was published in the September 2010 issue of the journal “Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes” published by the American Heart Association.

Type D stands for “Distressed” and from what I have found it is characterized by traits like: “a tendency to experience negative emotions,’ including depressed mood, anxiety, anger, and hostile feelings.” which sounds to me like most cops.

“Type D patients tend to experience increased levels of anxiety, irritation, and depressed mood across situations and time, while not sharing these emotions with others because of fear of disapproval,” researcher Viola Spek, PhD, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said in a news release.

“The analysis revealed that heart patients with a Type D personality had a three-fold increased risk for future cardiovascular problems, such as peripheral artery disease, angioplasty or bypass procedures, heart failure, heart transplantation, heart attack or death.”

Does that sound like you?  It does sound like me and most of the cops I know.

Reported By Jennifer Warner and Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC of WebMD Health News found”
“Although the reasons for higher risk among Type D patients are not clear, the researchers note that Type D personalities appear to respond differently to stress. This may increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood  and may be related to higher levels of inflammation. Type D personalities may also be less likely to get regular checkups or communicate well with their doctors.”

Again, does that sound like you?  Type D or not cops are at a higher risk of heart attack than the general population and we need to start doing something about it.

You may have heard about the research that John D. Violanti, PhD reported on last year while working with the Officers of the Buffalo, New York, Police Department.

Dr. Violanti is… an Associate Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York. He instructs within the Criminal Justice program at RIT. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine, Department of Social and Preventative Medicine. Professor Violanti is a retired 23 year veteran of the New York State Police, serving both as a trooper and within the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Dr. Violanti has written / edited several books and journal articles on such topics as law enforcement psychological trauma, police suicide, and general law enforcement psychological stress.

In his study that was reported in the  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in June 2009 and reported about by the American Medical Network on www.Health.am.  According to the write up Violanti found that “Police officers may have a higher-than-average risk of developing heart disease—not all of which can be explained by traditional risk factors“.  He also reported that  “Researchers found that compared with the general population, officers with the Buffalo, New York, police force showed an elevated rate of early Atherosclerosis—a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries than can lead to heart disease or stroke.”  I don’t know how this related to this issue of the Type-D personality but it may add up to a double whammy for police officers.  At very least it should sound a warning call that we all need to heed: Something is going on in our physiology that is different than other people and we need to work harder than others to combat the negative effects of our profession.

Violanti’s conclusion stated: “For now, the bottom line for police officers is that they should try to rein in all the heart risk factors that they can control—by, among other things, following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking”.

You can read a report about the study here:

You can read the abstract of the article or buy a reprint the original study’s report here:

If you choose this option you will have to do with language that is not written for us layperson’s much less cops like: “Police officers have increased levels of atherosclerosis compared with a general population sample, which was not fully explained by elevated CVD risk factors; thereby potentially implicating other mechanisms whereby law enforcement work may increase CVD risk.”

Bottom line is that we are at greater risk of lot’s of illnesses because of our job and we of all people in society REALLY need to take care of ourselves and work to ensure wellness and combat the predictive factors in our personality types.

So what do we do?

WebMD has some excellent suggestions on “How Can I Prevent Heart Disease?
* To stabilize both blood pressure and cholesterol levels and to keep your weight in check, try to eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains and fewer foods that are salty, high in fat, or fried.
* Exercise regularly (at least three to four times a week for 30 minutes at a time) in order to tone your heart and blood vessels — and to shed excess pounds.
* Drink alcohol in moderation, if you drink. (yeah right!)
* Don’t smoke.
* Learn to control stress rather than letting it control you. (This is the really important one for cops)
* If you feel you are at risk, ask your doctor about taking an aspirin a day to prevent heart attack.

Visit http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/understanding-heart-disease-prevention for more information

And remember that Dr. Violanti recommends “among other things, following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking”

In my opinion it seems that science is now describing what many of us have always called the “Oscar Syndrome” named after the Sesame Street character “Oscar the Grouch” who resembles many cops in many ways.  He’s always surly and never likes anything.  If that’s you you might want to take a good look in the mirror and decide if that’s the way you want to be and learn ways to combat some of the negative physiological effects that thinking that way causes to your body.

If you need a laugh after reading this article (and laughing is good for you remember!) then here is a video clip of Oscar the Grouch’s “I Hate Christmas” Song:

Enjoy the Clip and Enjoy your Life!!

Another excellent article by Dr. Violanti is entitled: “Dying from the Job: The Mortality Risk for Police Officers” and can be found here: http://www.cophealth.com/articles/articles_dying_a.html

Another source of information on this subject can be found in an article written for the Law Enforcement Mental Health Alliance by Dr. Violanti entitled “Police Officers Are At Increased Risk for Heart Disease” which can be viewed here:

Additional Resources on Type D Personality Traits and Heat Attack Risk:
Oxford Journal of Medicine Article: “Type D personality: the heart, stress, and cortisol”

Harvard Health Article: “Type D personality traits can hurt heart health”

WebMD Article: “Stressed-Out Types Put Heart at Risk
Anxious ‘Type D’ Personality Types More Likely to Have Heart Problems”

Article: “Personality Types Made Easy: The Four Basic Temperaments”

Article: “What is a Type D Personality?”

Wikipedia Article “Type D personality”

Here are some recent News Reports about the Type-D and Heart Attack link:
Type D personality associated with higher future heart risk

‘Type D’ Personality Linked to Increased Risk for Heart Problems

“Distressed”-personality heart-disease patients at increased risk of future events”

Here are some of our CopsAlive articles on stress and stress management for cops:

Police Officers Need to Learn to Manage Stress Before it Ruins their Lives and Careers

The Future of Stress Management for Law Enforcement

What Can Police Officers Do To Avoid Burnout?

The Pain Behind The Badge

Wellness Advice From A 30 Year Veteran of Law Enforcement

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers.  We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.

We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond.  We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career.

The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals.  It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into CopsAlive.com. Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! CopsAlive.com gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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One Comment

  1. I’ve never heard of Type D personality but it most certainly describes 99 percent of cops. This is a good message that I hope people take seriously

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