Written by Aimee Hoffmann, FEI EAP Counselor

Much national press has been given to law enforcement and the growing scrutiny they are under. Whether the stories are positive or negative, it is undeniable that a career in policing is extremely stressful.

Many officers suffer from PTSD and suicide rates are said to be 1.5 times greater than for the general population. Some research indicates one-third of active duty and retired law enforcement officers have PTSD; however, officers often do not realize they have PTSD or it goes unreported. Badge of Life, a nonprofit organization working with stress and trauma in police officers, released a study stating there were approximately 102 deaths by suicide of law enforcement officers in 2015. This was a decrease from the same study in 2012, which totaled 126 suicides.

The study was broken down further to show 91 percent were male; 83 percent exhibited prevalent personal problems prior to suicide; 15 to 18 percent suffered from PTSD; and the average age was 42 with approximately 16 years on the job. Unfortunately, police culture often makes it difficult for officers to get the assistance they need.

While law enforcement officers need help, there is another group that goes unnoticed: the families. Spouses and children have unique stressors put upon them as a result of their loved ones’ chosen profession.

Some notable stressors that law enforcement spouses have reported include:

  • Challenges of rotating shifts and being on opposite schedules. Such shifts force the family to keep the house dark and quiet while trying to get through daily routines.
  • Officers becoming too cynical, which makes meaningful conversation difficult.
  • Children being teased or bullied because they have a law enforcement parent.
  • Officers never relaxing and/or unwinding between shifts.
  • Officers drinking excessively when off duty.
  • Spouses having to make many of the family decisions alone.
  • Easing children’s fears regarding the safety of their law enforcement parent.
  • Experiencing a law enforcement death (knowing the officer, their spouse and children, etc.).
  • Spending too much off time with other officers rather than with the spouse and children.
  • Too much shop talk or, in some cases, too little talk and shutting the spouse out.

Studies have also found at least 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic abuse, as compared to 10 percent in the general population. Victims of police violence are particularly vulnerable since the officer has a gun, knows the location of battered women’s shelters and understands how to manipulate the system to avoid consequences. Victims frequently fear calling the police because they know it will be the officer’s colleagues and/or friends handling the case.

The National Center for Women and Policing reports on these realities and has even found that those guilty of domestic abuse are given exceedingly light discipline. Women in these situations should seek help from an experienced domestic abuse advocate. An excellent online resource can be found by a pioneer in the field of officer-involved domestic violence, Diane Wetendorf.

Law enforcement departments, officers and their family members can contact their EAP at any time to discuss the challenges they may be facing and get the help they need.