Attitudes and opinions toward stress-related support services among police in a southern state: a qualitative study
Police work is considered one of the most stressful occupations in the world and the high levels of stress associated with police work place officers at high risk for developing mental and physical health problems. Police officers also pose a threat to themselves, their families, and the general public when work-related stress is unresolved; high levels of stress among police can manifest into self-destructive, violent, and deviant behavior. Although stress management interventions have been available to police since the 1940s, the health and behavioral problems associated with unresolved stress have not shown any signs of improvement. The purpose of this study was to explore and identify (1) how police officers appraise stress-related support services, (2) suggestions they have regarding ways to improve these services, and (3) recommendations for new support services that would help to reduce and better manage work related stress. A pragmatic qualitative research approach was used to guide this study. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposeful sample of 20 patrol officers with at least two years of police experience. Findings showed that overall attitudes toward support services were positive, but two external factors were identified as major barriers to using services. Distrust toward confidentiality protections with intervention workers resulted in a perceived threat of being deemed unfit for duty by supervisors for using a support service. Similarly, a fear of appearing weak to other officers keeps officers from seeking needed services. However, participants recommended several feasible implications for lowering these barriers and to increasing officers’ willingness to using support services if needed. Most participants endorsed mandatory counseling after a critical incident because a standardized policy would reduce the fear of looking weak and the threat of being deemed unfit for duty. Suggestions for increasing trust in confidentiality protections included allowing police to meet counselors at private and discrete locations, giving officers the option of choosing their own counselor rather than assigning them one, and requiring external intervention workers to conduct “ride alongs” to build rapport with officers and better understand the unique stress associated with police work.