Modern society is encountering a surge in civil unrest across the U.S. and the world. According to a recent Global Peace Index, the number of riots and protests has doubled over the last decade, creating concern among law enforcement organizations.
While the impact of riots on law enforcement is often physical, especially when these disturbances become violent, the mental health of officers is also greatly impacted. In fact, the American Public Health Association has identified police violence as a public health crisis.
Understanding the long-term effects of riots on the mental health of law enforcement officers is critical as social unrest continues to rise. Learn more about how riots can impact mental health and how best to support law enforcement officers.
Understanding the Mental Health Implications of Riots
While riots are a known risk when entering the law enforcement industry, the impact of these violent displays on mental health are still unclear. Many law enforcement officers involved in these public outbursts experience emotional upset due to high-stress environments and exposure to traumatic events, such as threatened or actual violence.
Vulnerable individuals, such as those with a more anxious disposition, may even develop symptoms of an acute stress disorder. Common symptoms of ASD include intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disturbances.
In more severe cases, the development of post-traumatic stress disorder is possible. A mental health study found the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder to range between 4 and 41 percent in riot-affected areas. In addition, the prevalence of depression rose by 7 percent following major protests.
Effects of Civil Unrest on Law Enforcement Officers
Policing riots and protests requires law enforcement officers to accomplish two main goals: preserving public safety and protecting the constitutional right to free speech. However, unlawful activities still occur that put law enforcement and the public at risk.
The mental health of officers is especially threatened in the face of violent riots. With stress, violence, and scrutiny weighing on police mental health, many officers are struggling with the following:
Regardless of experience in the law enforcement industry, many officers experience anxiety during and after riots. For some, anxious feelings are temporary and begin to dissipate over days or weeks. For others, anxiety disorders can develop, resulting in symptoms like:
- Increased heart rate
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Trouble concentrating
- Breathing rapidly
- Feel tired or weak
- Having a sense of panic or doom
Riots and other violent protests can increase an officer’s risk of experiencing depressive symptoms. Depression refers to a group of conditions that are associated with the lowering or elevation of a person’s mood. Law enforcement officers that develop depression may experience the following:
- Reduced appetite
- Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death
- Angry outbursts or irritability
- Slowed thinking or speaking
- Trouble concentrating
- Unexplained physical issues, such as headaches
Exposure to stress and trauma can increase a person’s risk of developing substance abuse problems. From heavy drinking to partaking in illegal drugs, these addictions can have a direct impact on an officer’s personal and professional life. While drugs and alcohol are some of the most common addictions, others include:
- Social media
Supporting Law Enforcement Officers Exposed to Riots
Police officers spend considerable time in high-stress situations and over time, exposure to stress and trauma can take its toll. When mental health issues develop, they not only impact the officers themselves but also their families and the public. Getting law enforcement officers the mental health support they need is critical.
Signed into law in 2018, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) strives to protect the mental health and well-being of law enforcement officials. Program resources are available to help law enforcement agencies build resilient officers and organizations.
Another way to support law enforcement officers in the field is with proper gear. Haven Gear provides law enforcement organizations with next-gen riot gear that offers unparalleled safety features and mobility. Contact Haven Gear today to learn more.