15 Jan 2021

Staying Fit for Duty: Why Resilience Matters in Law Enforcement

By Stephen J. Sampson, Ph.D.

The challenges of a career in Public Safety are well known. Shift work, constantly on call for emergencies and exposure to violent behaviors are just a few of the many vocational stressors that negatively impact the mental health and wellbeing of the men and women in Public Safety. Law Enforcement officers have a high rate of potential mental/emotional struggles often because they frequently deal with people who have mental/emotional problems or demonstrate problematic behaviors. This chronic exposure can have a “social/emotional contagion” effect.

For example, an officer’s management of a person who is not thinking or feeling “straight” is much more complicated than one who is physically ailing. With a physical ailment, people are generally easier to manage because their thinking is not impaired. When dealing with mentally ill or difficult people, their inappropriate behaviors, emotions and thinking patterns make them very challenging to reason with. Having frequent encounters with these types of individuals or groups can eventually make it difficult for officers to manage their own emotions/behavior in those situations. Or, to put it another way, “human actions cause human reactions.”

Negative Effects of Chronic Exposure

Law Enforcement officers’ chronic exposure to mentally ill and difficult people can lead to more significant consequences within their professional and personal lives. To illustrate statistically, 60-90 percent of police marriages fail. Other adverse outcomes can include:

  • Substance Abuse
  • Domestic Violence
  • Infidelity
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders

Unfortunately, there can be a stigma associated with a vocational mental/emotional challenge versus a physical one. When an officer is experiencing a physical illness or injury, this is likely to generate empathy and concern from coworkers/friends/family. An officer with mental or emotional struggles may feel less supported because either their support system doesn’t want to acknowledge an officer’s struggles or, more likely, they simply don’t know how to help the impacted officer.

Training Builds Resilience and Fitness for Duty

An officer who is experiencing mental and emotional difficulties in his/her life poses a safety risk to themselves, fellow officers and the public in general. To perform effectively, officers must be at the maximum of mental and emotional control, especially in potential life and death scenarios. In the same way that people learn the fundamentals of any vocation, Law Enforcement personnel can be formally trained on how to manage their negative thoughts and emotions and maintain control in even the most extreme situations.

Training officers to build mental and emotional resilience is as vital as training officers in the proper use of the duty belt or ensuring they are knowledgeable of their lawful authority.

Law enforcement personnel need technical abilities training that increases their mental, emotional, social and moral resilience on a regular basis just like firearms training, tactical training and self-defense tactics training.

Some examples of this type of training include:

  • Fit for Duty Training – this training emphasizes mental health awareness. Officers are taught to recognize mental and emotional problems in themselves and other officers. They are also taught self-help strategies to prevent mental and emotional issues from becoming chronic.
  • Social Intelligence Skills – a law enforcement officer is a social scientist without formal training. They deal with all types of people both in their professional and personal life. Their ability to understand what they are dealing with requires more formal training besides officer courtesy or verbal judo.
  • Emotional Intelligence Training – research shows that emotions have an as great or greater influence on our actions than thinking. Consequently, learning how to manage the emotions of self and others is critical to everything.
  • Personal Relationship Training – personal relationship maintenance requires social and emotional skills that need to be taught formally. They are not natural. Maintaining a healthy personal relationship through highs and lows of life is very technical. Healthy personal relationships can be a potent antidote for mental and emotional problems.
  • Advantages to these types of training include:
  • Officers do not have to be concerned with confidentiality in an education setting.
  • Officers learn skill sets that can prevent future mental and emotional problems.
  • It is cost effective to train groups of people in one setting.
  • It allows officers the dignity of not having to admit they are not perfect.

As with any other type of tactical training that leads to vocational mastery, learning social and emotional technical skills builds vital interpersonal abilities and self-awareness. It also creates a genuine foundation for professional and personal resilience and wellbeing for Public Safety personnel.

Want to Learn More?
To find out how our company approaches these challenges with our clients, contact Sampson at info@sampsonpsychtesting.com. Or, read more about our flagship trainings, Quiet Cop, Fit for Duty, Applied Social Intelligence and How to Be In a Personal Relationship.

About the Author

Stephen J. Sampson, Ph.D. has been teaching social intelligence, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills for over 40 years. He brings both academic knowledge and practical experience to his seminars.