Medically and Psychologically Ruinous

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Working as a police officer is medically and psychologically ruinous:

When he was starting out, Brian says he wasn’t warned of how the career could do such damage. In 2012, an unprecedented study of 464 police officers, published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health linked officers’ stress with increased levels of sleep disorders, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and suicide.

Other studies have found that between 7 and 19 percent of active duty police have PTSD, while MRIs of police officers’ brains have found a connection between experiencing trauma and a reduction in areas that play roles in emotional and cognitive decision-making, memory, fear, and stress regulation.

In squad rooms full of cops, Brian would compare blood pressure meds with his colleagues. Most, if not all, of the police he knew with more than 10 years of service were dealing some kind of medical or psychological issue.

At night, Brian would hide his drinking from his wife. He went from sipping whiskey, to downing cheap 100-proof vodka.

“You see nothing but bodies, I swear, dead people,” he said. “Car accidents, hangings, suicides, murders, SIDS deaths.” He remembered a diabetic who killed himself by overdosing on chocolate. And then there was the conversation with a tongue-pierced meth user with an enlarged heart who had told Brian, “I’m white trash until the day I die.” He assaulted people in a parking lot and died in custody after deputies restrained him. The next day, Brian found himself close to fainting after viewing the autopsy photos of the same kid’s esophagus, and pierced tongue.

“I was so angry at this one woman for dying, that I yelled at her,” he said. “I just didn’t want to see another dead body…I should have recognized at that point, it’s time for me to back up.”


  1. Bill says:

    Has this always been true? I was just thinking that my favorite modern-day detectives, like Lucas Davenport and Harry Bosch, are both troubled dark characters, and it’s obvious that it’s their experiences as police officers that propel their journeys into personal darkness. Both John Sandford and Michael Connelly were deeply embedded police reporters before they were fiction writers.

    But three generations ago, I’m not convinced that the detective heroes were deeply troubled as a result of their work. Maybe it’s because Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot were consulting detectives, and not police officers, and were basically intellectual problem solvers. I don’t think either Doyle or Christie spent that kind of time with real police detectives.

    Has it always been this difficult for police officers?

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