Understanding the different kinds of stress your partner faces
For partners and families to support the officer in maintaining good mental health, it is important they are aware of the types of stress members encounter in the job. It is understandable for partners and families to worry about the exposure of officers to critical incidents, however, research shows that it is organisational challenges that are more stressful than operational experiences, like critical incidents. This type of stress can be hard to recognise as it occurs as a slow progression, meaning the member is often unaware of the issues until they are so severe that families or colleagues can notice changes.
The common sources of stress officers face across career are:
This is stress that comes from within agency such as tensions with superiors, issues with department policies, lack of co-worker support, punishment for minor infractions, being questioned about field actions, little performance reward and low morale, which are all cited as being more stressful than experiencing violence on shift.
Stress coming from bureaucratic factors centres around members having very little control over their work environment. This can lead to greater issues around workload, daily work hassles, co-worker relations, hierarchy, rank structure and work recognition.
Stress in frontline relationships can come because of a lack of communication between work and home and can be heightened by the concern partners and families feel regarding the safety of the officer. These stressors are additional to the challenges of shift work and organisational factors that policing families face daily.
Inadequate organisational support in the aftermath of critical incidents is also a significant source of stress for officers. Longitudinal studies have found that officers involved in critical incidents who went on to report clinical depression, PTSD or suicidal ideation attributed their symptoms mainly to a lack of follow up support and care from their departments rather than from the incident itself. Therefore, it is so important that members and their families are aware of and engage in relevant support services as they are required.
Stress from exposure to trauma and critical incidents can lead to distress in members and can present in feelings of guilt or shame. It can be short lived and does not necessarily occur after every exposure. Not always is it the case that members will experience stress as a consequence of exposure to a traumatic event.
Burnout refers to prolonged periods of incorrectly managed stress and can have both physical and psychological impacts. It is estimated that as many as 25 to 30 percent of police members identify as having stress-based health problems. Members reporting burnout are more likely to display anger, spend their time off away from their families, withdraw from family affairs and experience relationship dysfunction. High levels of police stress have been found to be strongly associated with negative behavioural outcomes such as spousal abuse, aggression and increased use of alcohol.
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