Healthy Headspace: Police Stressors and Health

KENNEWICK, WA - We all have stressors in our lives. Things that we are dealing with daily, whether it's deadlines at work or issues at home. Police officers have that as well.

Lt. Aaron Clem with the Kennewick Police Department said they get to see the best days in people's lives.

"That can be the best thing in life," Clem said. "Like going and helping in a picnic or interacting with kids at school or birthday drive-by that we do a lot where we help somebody celebrate something in their life."

He said they also see the worst things in life.

"Where we have to go deal with suicide and homicide," Clem said. "A new family losing a baby or any kind of other negative things in life. Our officers have to be able to deal with one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes and give the same level of service at both the worst case scenarios and the best scenarios that happen back to back."

Clem said many times they do not have an outlet for the stress that they are feeling.

"We really do not want to go home and share that information with our family and our kids," Clem said.

He said the officers would keep that stuff bottled up.

"It creates a lot of stress," Clem said. "It can create some mental health issues. It can create some physical mental health issues where we can become just sick."

He said they have to find ways to deal with stress. One of the ways they deal with that is that inside of the department, they have a whole wall of cards and letters that people have sent in. Just to let the officers know how much they appreciate the work that they are doing.

"That goes a long way towards officers feeling appreciated for the job that they are doing, which helps with their mental health," Clem said.

Clem said their staff is really aware of those stressors. So, when an officer has to deal with a situation that may cause difficultly, he said they may go and have a private conversation with that officer.

"Check in with them, make sure that they are o.k.," Clem said. "See if there is anything they can do to help."

Police officers also have available to mental health counselors through an employee assistance program.

Clem said they are also in the process of developing a handful of mental health professionals that specialize in this kind of stress. Officers also have access to a gym inside their department building where they can exercise.

"Which we all know is a great way to relieve some of that stress, so we encourage them to get into the gym to help release that stress and help with their mental health," Clem said.

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