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Law Enforcement During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Part II: Mental Health Strategies and Resources
As first responders, law enforcement officers (LEOs) face continual risk and threats of violence, but the COVID-19 pandemic presents not only an extra element of risk in terms of exposure to the virus, but increased risks of mental health problems related to depression, anxiety, trauma, marital stress, and substance use disorders. During this time, it’s important for LEOs to maintain a positive mindset and for leadership to ensure they have access to the organizational and professional resources they require.
Proactive mental health strategies including self-care, peer support, professional mental health services, the knowledge that officers are not alone, and engaged leadership are part of the continuum enabling positive mental health outcomes.
LEOS who are able to focus on their own needs, rights, and feelings while taking care of others may be more positively positioned to help prevent maladaptive reactions. Mehdizadeh & Kamkar (2020) have suggested a number of proactive strategies including:
- Focusing on the “here and now” and what you can control, distinguishing between current and potential worries. The more grounded you are facilitates a sense of control and forestalls helplessness and hopelessness.
- Re-framing negative self-talk; keeping things in perspective while recognizing your strengths.
- Practicing psychological flexibility by re-evaluating and revising thoughts, expectations, and goals to align with the current reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, paving the way for more realistic outcomes.
- Engaging in physical fitness and developing healthy nutrition habits with a balanced diet.
- Developing quality social support, participating in meaningful activities, and pursuing spiritual guidance are antidotes to depressed affect.
- Seeking a sense of satisfaction; identifying positive outcomes in your work and being proud of your accomplishments.
- Avoiding harsh self-judgements, accepting the imperfections that come from being human. Be kind to yourself.
- Encouraging the practice of mindfulness, i.e., the purposeful awareness of your thoughts and feelings in the moment and resisting judgment or negative interpretation.
- Avoiding substance misuse and maladaptive coping with alcohol or drugs.
- Seeking peer support and workplace programs for positive coping strategies such as yoga and meditation.
Engaged and informed leadership helps ensure LEOs remain safe and healthy through active listening, displays of empathy, and compassion. Recognition of officer achievements within the organization and community fosters not only a healthy work environment but positive community relations (Millard & Papazoglou, 2020). Leadership should also maintain consistent communication (physical distancing or virtual meetings) to check-in with their officers keeping them informed of departmental changes to procedures. Finally, officers who may be experiencing additional home-based stressors need to be identified and referred for treatment if necessary.
Self-care and awareness, along with organizational attention to mental health challenges, may not be enough to forestall increased distress and destabilization. Organizational culture needs to reinforce engagement with mental health professionals when distress becomes chronic and maladaptive. Some red flags or warning signs this might be happening include:
- Difficulty initiating tasks or completing responsibilities,
- Chronic low mood and excessive anxiety that is difficult to manage,
- Lacking pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyed,
- Difficulties with sleep or concentration,
- Symptoms of marital disaffection/dissatisfaction, or
- Symptoms of trauma including flashbacks, avoidance, self-loathing, or hypervigilance.
Law enforcement officers need to know they are not alone during these unprecedented times and that support services are available.
Mehdizadeh, S., & Kamkar, K. (2020). COVID-19 and the impact on police services. Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being, 5(2), 42-44.
Milliard B., & Papazaglou, K. (2020). “Another brick in the wall” of Police Work: COVID-19. researchgate.net/publication/341804551
In collaboration with: Vic Gladwish, Gladwish on Demand Editorial Services