Police officers do not reap only rewards when performing their duties. Indeed, the press is often hard on them. They are put in the spotlight at the slightest misstep and their actions are constantly scrutinized, making their margin of maneuver incredibly thin. The slightest mistake will be exploited and publicized.
They are also subject to harsh criticism from citizens who, in many cases, have only met “ticket givers”. The officer who catches you that one time you are driving twenty kilometers above the speed limit because you are late for work. That morning, where the last months’ accumulated stressors will find a perfect outlet in this “heartless officer who has nothing better to do than to annoy a poor citizen”. Having met a number of “ticket givers” myself, I sometimes had a few less than complimentary words for them. That’s one side of the coin.
For nearly three years now, I have had the chance to collaborate with some of them while working with Optania. My mandate is to better understand their reality and the issues that come with their profession to help develop a virtual psychological support tool.
Our clinical team met with them in their workplace. Imagine, a psychiatrist visiting the police! A shrink in a male-dominated workplace known for not being inclined to pour out their emotions. A universe of men who tend to stay silent during difficult situations.
Obviously, that’s how they defend themselves against suffering. Wearing an emotional bulletproof vest is necessary to survive this daily exposure to human suffering. My first reaction was to think that this would be no easy task! A judgment on my part, I must admit. I had some reservations. I was not convinced that my speech on emotions and benevolence would resonate well in the Robocop world.
Mustering all my courage, I met them with my colleague. Surprisingly, we spent over three hours exchanging and discussing about the psychological impacts of their profession. I listened carefully and started seeing the other side of the coin.
I was moved with deep compassion and immeasurable respect for all that they do for society. I have seen and heard brave and courageous men and women working in increasingly difficult conditions with heavy downsizing. Dedicated people who, day after day, get up in the morning not always knowing in what condition they will go home at night, or sometimes, not even knowing if they will see their family again. The oath of allegiance means they don’t have the luxury of talking to their spouse after a difficult day. They often won’t dare to confide in their peers when in distress. They will often wait a long time before talking to someone… sometimes too long.
Every day, police officers face tragic events, human misery, abused children and women, suicides and violence. They risk their lives to save those of others. Their sense of self-sacrifice enables them to put themselves entirely at the service of others. Obviously, they sometimes go through this same distress they often witness, but they will not dare to share it in order to preserve this image of strength, or to not disappoint their work partner.
The officer who gave you a ticket the morning you were late has probably saved the life of a child or helped someone who was about to take their own life in the past. That same officer will also be there when your family will need him or her. They are unsung heroes.
Today, I pay tribute to all those men and women who keep us safe. They are rarely praised for their heroic actions and are too often put in the spotlight at the slightest misstep.
We all know how important it is to be acknowledged for our work. The very nature of their duty, their repeated exposure to human suffering and the lack of recognition are important risk factors for mental health. They care for us, but who cares for them?
Optania is proud to be able to provide front line virtual support to police officers. If our work helps save the life of a single police officer, our mission will be accomplished!
Psychiatrist, Clinical content and research director