Stress: Cause or Symptom

When you really examine the side-effects of a law enforcement career on the men and women who take the oath and don the badge it’s kind of scary.

First examine the rate 100 to 200 police officers who are killed in the line of duty in the U.S. alone each year.  Then if you dig deeper, the statistics show that things like suicide, cancer and other side effects of the police career that kill thousands more cops each year.

“There are an estimated 623,000 sworn police officers employed in the United States, yet few studies of long term health risks have been conducted. It has been argued that police officers are at increased risk for mortality as a result of their occupation. The average age of death for police officer in our 40-year study was 66 years of age.”
Quoted from: Dying from the Job: The Mortality Risk for Police Officers
by John M. Violanti, PhD (A very interesting article and well worth your time to read.) CLICK HERE

I always wonder if we in the U.S. are the only ones to have these problems and I look for statistics from other countries and believe that the health effects of policing are the same everywhere.

For example in Canada I found this article from Canada.com:
Vancouver getting stress treatment clinic for soldiers, and the RCMP.  CLICK HERE

And in the UK they have noticed an increase in the use of sick leave in public sector workers including police: Public-private gap on sick leave is wider than ever.  CLICK HERE

What effects is stress having on your health? Well according to the American Medical Association stress has a direct relationship to some bad things happening in your body.

EFFECTS OF STRESS ON THE HEART
* Increased heart rate
* Increased blood pressure
* Release of catecholamines (stress hormones, including epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline) from the adrenal glands
* Increased oxygen demand on the body (temporarily higher metabolic rate)
* Lower threshold for abnormal heart rhythms including ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, and atrial fibrillation. Electrical instability in the heart makes it easier for these abnormal heart rhythms to occur.
* Spasm of coronary (heart) blood vessels, leading to ischemia (inadequate blood flow to the heart)

Fortunately or unfortunately the suggestions about managing your stress haven’t changed in many years.

PREVENTING AND MANAGING STRESS
* Avoid situations that you know will cause stress.
* Incorporate some type of exercise into each day.
* Eat a healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
* Do not smoke.
* Use alcohol only in moderation.
* Quiet time, meditation, prayer, reading, yoga, and relaxation techniques (including biofeedback) can help in stress management.
* Family and friends can provide needed support. Talking about problems can help to reduce conflict and express feelings.
* If you have heart disease, your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker, a type of medication to help lower the heart rate and control abnormal heart rhythms.

This is the article that started me thinking:
Study: Exercise and stress management from Canada.com. The article is new but the research is a couple of years old.  CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE ARTICLE

Here is the original article, If you want to read it in doctor-speak!
Journal of the American Medical Association article: Effects of Exercise and Stress Management Training on Markers of Cardiovascular Risk in Patients With Ischemic Heart Disease.  CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE ARTICLE

For more information here is a more recent Journal of the American Medical Association article: Acute Emotional Stress and the Heart.  CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE ARTICLE

Maybe it’s time to create a plan for your long-term health and if your department or agency doesn’t have much to support you, maybe you should work with your peers to start planning how you can help protect and support each other in your battle against the negative side effects of this job.

We are always looking for more information and better statistics in this area of our progression so if you have a referral for us please leave a comment or email your info to us.

Sources:
Violanti Article: http://www.cophealth.com/articles/articles_dying_a.html
Canada.com Article: http://www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost/news/story.html?id=7aec4924-c0f3-4646-a88a-db51be55292f&k=79246
UK Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/may/14/workandcareers.pay
Study on Exercise: http://bodyandhealth.canada.com/channel_section_details.asp?text_id=3597&channel_id=11&relation_id=30085
JAMA Article: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/293/13/1626?lookupType=volpage&vol=293&fp=1626&view=short
Emotional Stress and the Heart: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/298/3/360

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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