Police officers usually encounter traumatic experiences in the course of their duties that usually predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Since many police officers are unaware of consequences of traumatic experiences, they find themselves in depression, battling with suicidal feelings, plunging into alcoholism and losing their families.
According to Clair (2006), the trauma that police officers experience is proportional to critical incidents that they encounter in the course of their career (p.29). Hence, traumatic experiences, which police officers endure for many years in the course of their profession, have a severe impact on their physical, emotional, and mental health because they ultimately predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family.
Although there are multi-therapeutic approaches of alleviating the impact of traumatic experiences among police officers, lack of awareness or insufficient awareness make many police officers endure traumatic experiences that subsequently affect their physical, emotional and mental health. Therefore, there is a need to identify factors that predispose police officers to trauma so that they can seek appropriate therapy after experiencing traumatic events to reduce susceptibility to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family.
Police officers encounter traumatic experiences in the course of their career that predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Police profession is normally stressful because police officers often encounter traumatic experiences that have a significant impact on their physical, emotional, and mental health.
For police officers to fulfill their responsibilities of policing, they must endure and cope with traumatic experiences that they encounter. Normally, traumatic experiences have a cumulative effect, and Clair (2006) argues that, critical incidents have a cumulative effect in causing trauma, for police officers cannot habituate traumatic experiences that they often experience (p.30).
Thus, trauma that police officers have is proportional to traumatic experiences that they have encountered throughout the period of their career in policing. Trauma has a negative impact on physical, emotional, and mental health of police officers, yet many do not realize it because they are unaware of how traumatic experiences affect them.
Since traumatic experiences that police officers encounter in the course of their career predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of the family, it is imperative that police officers should identify their traumatic experiences so that they can seek appropriate therapy to alleviate the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of the trauma.
Objectives of the Study
The objective of the study is to explore the traumatic experiences that police officers encounter in the course of their career, with the view of identifying risk factors that predispose them to trauma. Since traumatic experiences that police officers encounter have a cumulative effect in causing trauma, the study seeks to identify risk factors that cause trauma among police officers.
In this view, the study will establish if the experiences that police officers undergo are proportional to trauma that cause negative impact on physical, emotional, and psychological health. Given that the trauma, which police officers experience, determines their susceptibility to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family, the study will establish if affected individuals sought any therapy to alleviate the impact of trauma in their lives.
Marmar et al. (2006) assert that, individual differences among police officers determine their susceptibility to trauma and related consequences; thus, early intervention is critical to alleviate the impact of trauma (p.2). Given that several factors mediate the impact of trauma on police officers, the study will identify these factors with the objective of enabling police officers seek therapy when they experience critical incidents.
The study hypothesizes that, most police officers are suffering from trauma that emanates from experiences of critical incidents and has predisposed them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family because they do not seek therapy.
Lack of awareness or insufficient awareness of consequences of trauma has made many police officers endure traumatic experiences that ultimately result into depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Thus, the study further hypothesizes that identification of risk factors of trauma can enable police officers to seek therapy in time and avert predisposition to depression, suicide, alcoholism and loss of a family, which are consequences of untreated trauma.
Scope of the Study
The study will explore traumatic experiences that police officers encounter during their professional duties. Since the study hypothesizes that, the trauma, which police officers endure in the course of their duties predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism and loss of family, the study will identify factors that cause trauma among police officers.
To determine the impact of trauma on police officers, the study will assess the prevalence of depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. The study will also explore if police officers are aware of consequences of trauma, and the available therapeutic approaches that they use in alleviating impact of trauma in their lives.
Although trauma has gender orientation, the study will not examine how trauma differentially affects male and female police officers. Thus, the study overlooks the fact that there is differential occurrence of trauma in terms of gender among police officers. Moreover, the study will only examine police officers within a single district since they are many and readily available to be subjects of study.
Importance of the Study
Study of traumatic experiences that predispose police officers to trauma and subsequently to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of the family is critical in understanding the physical, emotional, and mental health of police officers. Police profession is highly stressful since police officers often encounter traumatic experiences that affect their physical, emotional, and mental health.
Hence, exploration of traumatic experiences is essential in unraveling causes and consequences of trauma that police officers encounter and endure in the course of their profession. According to Hasselt et al. (2008), trauma that police officers undergo during traumatic experiences impairs their judgment, thus making them not to function effectively in policing (p.134). Hence, it means that trauma does not only interfere with performance of police officers at work but also at their homes.
Therefore, understanding of traumatic experiences can help police officers manage their trauma well and prevent predisposition to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Given that therapeutic interventions can effectively alleviate the impact of trauma on police officers, exploration of traumatic experiences in terms of depression, suicide, alcoholism and loss of the family will give an insight into grave consequences associated with trauma.
Kgalema (2002) indicates that, police officers often interfaces with victims and perpetrators of crimes, which predispose them to critical incidents that trigger trauma, hence require awareness of trauma and effective skills of managing trauma (p.1).
Thus, the study will increase awareness of trauma among police officers because it identifies traumatic experiences that predispose police officers to trauma and highlight subsequent effects such as depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Therefore, if police officers can identify critical incidents and become aware consequences of trauma, they will seek therapeutic intervention in time to avert physical, emotional, and mental consequences of trauma in their lives.
Police profession is one of the most stressful and dangerous career because police officers constantly encounter traumatic experiences that predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism and loss of family. Thus, literature review indicates that, police officers normally endure traumatic experiences, but they have a cumulative effect, which eventually results into trauma.
Statistics indicates that the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among police officers is significantly high as compared to its prevalence in the general population. According to Hasselt et al. (2008), the prevalence of PTSD among police officers range from 13% to 34% depending on state and region where police officers work (p.134).
Variability in prevalence of PTSD is due to differences in traumatic experiences such as crimes, natural disasters, and accessibility to therapeutic interventions. Thus, literature review examines how traumatic experiences and PTSD predispose police officers to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family with the objective of identifying risk factors of trauma.
The traumatic experiences that police officers encounter and endure, during the course of their duties, make them susceptible to depression. Depression is a psychological disorder that occurs mainly due to the traumatic experiences of life. Since police officers frequently encounter traumatic experiences, they contribute to high incidences of depression among police officers signifying that trauma causes depression.
According to Green (2004), prevalence study carried out in UK shows that about 13% of the law enforcement officers experience trauma (p.1). The prevalence rate of 13% is about six times more than prevalence rates of the general population. The study further confirms that, the prevalence rates of trauma are higher in officers who have more experience compared to those who have little experience in police due to the cumulative effect of traumatic experiences.
Therefore, it means that trauma and stressors that are inherent in police profession contribute significantly to depression of police officers. Leeds (2009) contends that, traumatic experiences of police such as frequent shootings, fears of an unknown enemy, risk nature of the job, witnessing ordeal, and negative perceptions of public usually depress police officers (p. 4).
All these stressors and traumatic experiences are potential causes of depression that make police officers susceptible to depressive trauma. Police profession is emotionally stressing and physically dangerous thus elicits depressive feelings that make police officers be prone to depression. Sanford (2003) argues that, stressors that police officers encounter and endure change personality of officers by causing anger, cynicism, and depression (p.17).
Police training attempts to suppress police emotions to enhance their resilience and endurance to critical incidents, but traumatic experiences normally have long-term effect due to the cumulative effect of trauma. Hence, police officers can only endure traumatic experiences up to a point in life where they trigger overwhelming depressive feelings that cause depression.
Although police officers may tolerate many traumatic incidences such as witnessing the death of fellow police officer or ordeal of criminals, after a certain period such memories resurface and elicit depressive moods. This illustrates that traumatic experiences associated with policing cumulatively increase susceptibility of police officers to depression.
Traumatic experiences of police officers predispose them to suicide since many police officers commit suicide when they cannot longer manage their trauma. Police profession is not only dangerous but also strenuous emotionally and psychologically because police officers often encounter traumatic experiences such as violence, murder, disasters, and accidents, which cause emotional and psychological disturbances.
Brown (2003) debates that, police suicide is a significant problem in police service because suicide claims twice the number of police officers who die in the line of duty (p.7). Deaths due to suicide may be more than the number in reports because many cases are unreported to avoid stigmatization of the bereaved and enable families to claim benefits. Thus, in the United States suicide is a significant cause of death among police officers.
Police officers normally commit suicide due to complex of problems that aggravate trauma that they already have due to traumatic experiences of their career. Problems such as financial difficulties, alcoholism, relationship issues, accessibility to dangerous weapons and traumatic experiences compel police officers to commit suicide when they overwhelm their emotional and psychological control.
However, since general population also experience some problems that are similar to the ones police officers are grappling with, suicide rates of police officers double that of the general population. Thus, it implies that traumatic experiences of police officers significantly contribute to high rates of suicide reported in police service.
According to Brown (2003), when trauma overwhelms police officers, they feel that the only way to overcome challenges in life is by committing suicide (p.2). Hence, suicide is the last resort that police officers choose in the face of challenges related to their profession.
Given that police officers are enduring traumatic experiences, they opt to abuse drugs such as alcohol to overcome challenges of life. Usually, when people experience problems in life, they resort to drug abuse or alcoholism as means of calming their stress and trauma that seem to overwhelm them.
Boyce (2006) argues that, prevalence of alcoholism among police officers is twice that of the general population because trauma predisposes them to abuse drugs (p.2). Traumatic experiences are an integral part of police profession, and such experiences cause trauma, which compels police officers to drink alcohol as a way of relieving trauma and stress associated with policing.
Comparatively, police profession is the most demanding and stressful career for police officers cannot endure without abusing drugs or seeking therapy. As many police officers cannot seek therapy to alleviate the impact of trauma that they have, they drink alcohol and abuse other drugs. Since alcohol is readily available and is legal, police officers who have trauma prefer to drink rather than to seek help from friends, family, or psychotherapists.
According to Marmar et al. (2006), in the United States, about 10% of police officers are alcoholics while about 15% have experienced adverse effects of alcohol in their lives (p.8). Prevalence of alcoholism among police officers is high relatively to the general population because trauma that they have predispose them to alcoholism.
Ellison (2004) argues that, although alcohol reduces frustrations and stress in a police officer, it also increases the potential of causing violence given that police officers can access deadly weapons (p.60). Thus, traumatic experiences contribute to stress and frustration of police officers and predispose them to alcoholism.
Loss of family
Police officers constantly encounter and endure traumatic experiences in the course of their profession, which ultimately affect the stability of their families. When police officers experience overwhelming trauma, they become violent to not only fellow officers, but also to their own families. Sanford (2003) explains that, family members are usually victims of violence because police officers at times direct their anger to them due to trauma (p.11).
During times of trauma, families are not at peace because traumatized police officers come home in a violent mood. Constant violence in the family results into divorce or separation because one of the spouses can no longer endure the ordeal in the marriage. Hence, many families of police officers hardly live in peace because traumatic experiences of policing affect relationships and cause breakage of marriages.
Given that police profession does not offer police officers ample time to interact with their families, it contributes to high rates of divorce among police officers. Boyce (2006) contends that, police officers experience high rates of divorce compared to the general population because of extended hours of work, unpredictable shift rotations, and traumatic experiences (p.10).
Traumatic experiences of a spouse make family live under constant fear of violence. Even though other stressors may strain marriage relationships of police officers, traumatic experiences of policing significantly contribute to high rates of separation and divorce among polices officers.
Thus, the literature review confirms that police officers encounter and endure traumatic experiences in the course of their career that predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. In this view, the study will conduct research to identify traumatic experiences or critical incidents that predispose police officers to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of a family, which are consequences of untreated trauma.
Since the objective of the study is to explore traumatic experiences that police officers encounter in the course of their career with the view of identifying risk factors that predispose them to trauma, the study assessed police officers in a given district. To establish dominant factors that cause trauma and subsequently predispose them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family, the study surveyed traumatic experiences that police officers encounter and identify risk factors that significantly contribute to development of trauma.
The research design of the study involves two groups of participants, novice, and veteran police officers. Novice police officers have less than two years experience in police service, while veteran police officers have more than two years experience in police service. Objective of using two groups of participants is to find out the relationship between professional experience and the level of depression, alcoholism, suicide, and loss of family.
According to Kohli and Bajpai (2006), the level of depression among police officers is proportional to their professional experiences. (p.8). Therefore, to establish the extent of trauma due professional experience, the study examined the degree of depression, alcoholism, suicide, and loss of family among police officers.
The study randomly selected 100 participants from a population of police officers in a certain district. Since the study involves two groups of participants, novice and veteran police officers, each group had 50 participants. The novice police officers are the ones who have less than two years experience in police service, while veteran police officers have more than two years of experience.
The novice police officers served as a control group in determining the nature and extent of depression, suicide, alcoholism, and family loss among veteran police officers. Given that the researchers targeted various police stations within the district, they employed random method of sampling by ensuring that participants emanated from each police station. Thus, the study sampled 100 participants of police officers because the number could significantly represent police officers and enhance external validity of data required.
To obtain reliable and relevant data for the study, the researchers administered the following questions to the participants.
1. How many years have you served in police service?
2. Are you happy serving as a police officer? Why?
3. Have ever suffered from depression since you joined the police service? If yes, when did you experience it?
4. If you can suffer from depression, can you seek any therapy?
5. Have you ever encountered traumatic experiences in the course of your profession?
6. What critical incidents do you consider as traumatic experiences?
7. During the course of your profession, have you ever contemplated to commit suicide?
8. In face of overwhelming trauma, can you consider committing suicide?
9. What do you think is the main reason police officers commit suicide?
10. Do you abuse any drugs? Why?
11. Do you drink alcohol? Why?
12. Why do you think police officers drink alcohol?
13. Are you married?
14. How many years have you been in marriage?
15. How many children do you have?
16. Are you happily married? Why?
17. In the course of policing, do you feel any strain in your marriage? How?
18. Have you ever divorced you spouse? Why?
19. Have you ever separated with your spouse? Why?
20. Why do you think police officers separate or divorce?
Collection of Data and Results
The study employed qualitative method of research in collecting relevant data from police officers regarding traumatic experiences. Specifically, the study administered open questionnaires to police officers who provided essential data for research. Use of open questionnaires is appropriate for the study because police officers have the freedom to answer questions according to their varied characters and experiences in policing.
Since the study targeted police officers in a given district, researchers administered questionnaires, inform of surveys, to police officers at their respective police stations. In enhancing reliability of data, the researchers prepared appropriate questionnaire that is remarkably straightforward in that, police officers can finish completing it within a short period.
To collect relevant data in terms of questionnaires, researcher ethically considered that participants need informed consent concerning the study and assurance that information obtained from them is confidential. Prior to the collection of data, researchers made sure that the participants were in a sober mood to enable them complete their questionnaires sufficiently.
The findings indicate that trauma that police officers gain in the course of their profession predisposes them to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Concerning depression, the findings indicate that, most police officers, both novice and veteran, have suffered from depression in the course of their profession.
However, significant number of police officers cannot seek therapy because they are not aware of grave consequences of trauma. Since police profession is full of traumatic experiences, police officers considered shootings, brutal death of their colleagues, disasters, and violent crimes as some of critical incidents that predispose them to trauma.
According to Stewart (2011), shooting is a critical incident in police service because police officers rarely experience it; thus, its occurrence predisposes police officers to trauma (p.7). Thus, to prevent critical incidents from causing trauma, police officers need to seek immediate therapy when they experience them in the course of their profession.
Additionally, the findings confirmed that critical incidents cause PTSD among police officers that eventually predispose them to suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family. Analysis of data in questionnaires shows that about 10% of police officers have contemplated committing suicide due to trauma that they experience in their duties.
The findings also indicate that, about 15% of police officers use alcohol to relieve stress and trauma, which they experience for they do not seek any form of therapy. Regarding marriage, the findings show that, a significant number of police officers have experienced separation or divorce because trauma makes them develop violent personality, which instill fears on their spouses.
Mayhew (2001) argues that, burnout aggravates trauma among police officers since they have insufficient time to manage trauma, they lack support from fellow officers, and the police culture requires them to suppress emotional expression, which ultimately result into marriage breakdown (p.3). Therefore, presence of traumatic experiences and insufficient support coupled with inadequate awareness of consequences of trauma are responsible for development PTSD and related consequences among police officers.
The study has found out that traumatic experiences that police officers come across during the course of their profession have a cumulative effect. Since traumatic experiences have a cumulative effect, it is imperative for police officers to identify critical indents that predispose them to PTSD and subsequently make them susceptible to depression, suicide, alcoholism, and loss of family.
In this perceptive, the study identifies shooting, violent crimes, brutal death of fellow officers and disasters as some of the critical incidents that police officers experience. Thus, police officers need to seek therapy when they experience critical incidents to prevent the occurrence of PTSD and its consequences.
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