19225833_sWhen most people think of the risks police officers face on the job, the dangers posed by violence, motor vehicle accidents and other incidents are generally what come to mind. Some of the greatest health risks that police officers in Illinois face, however, come from work-related trauma and stress. Due to the nature of the job, as well as the workplace culture that exists in many departments, law enforcement officers face a unique set of pressures. Work-related trauma and stress have been shown by studies to have an adverse effect on the overall health and mental wellness of police officers.

Work-related stresses

Police work can be psychologically stressful. Not only are officers frequently and ambiguously at risk of getting attacked or assaulted, they are also regularly exposed to human misery, death and other highly-emotionally charged situations. Researchers from the University of Buffalo believe that over time, chronic stress, such as that experienced by law enforcement, can cause physiological issues that may result in more serious health conditions down the road. Stress can compromise the immune system, as well as cause the body to become physiologically unbalanced. This can lead to issues including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Disruption of circadian rhythms or insomnia
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Suicide 

Additionally, chronic stress can cause a disruption in the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The HPA axis is largely responsible for how the body responds to stress. Elevated levels of stress can also decrease the flexibility of the brachial artery and cause the Carotid artery to thicken, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, plaque build-up and stroke.

Work-related traumas

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very common work injury among police officers. This is largely due to the violent, emotional and otherwise traumatic events and situations that they often experience on the job. PTSD can also develop, however, due to a lack of support from fellow officers and superiors, as well as organizational pressure. A psychological and physiological condition, PTSD can have effects beyond just the mental ones. It can decrease the blood flow to certain parts of the brain. This can cause the officer to be unable to stop recalling the difficult and troubling memories of the trauma or event. PTSD can also lead to cell destruction in the brain’s hippocampus area.

It can be difficult to prove that psychological injuries, or any resulting health conditions, are work-related or caused. Police officers who have developed health problems as a result of their employment may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Working with an attorney can help officers to understand their rights, as well as their employers’ responsibilities.

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