(Always) Thinking About Wellness
with Dawn-Elise Snipes
Physical Effects of Stress on Employees and Police Officers
Stress leads to physical distress as evidenced by changes in neurotransmitter balance, reduced immune function, increased fatigue, sleeping and eating changes and changes in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Not only are workers calling in sick due to mental health problems, but they are also much more susceptible to developing physical ailments as well (Tang and Hammontree, 1992; Greene and Nowack, 1995; Schaubroeck and Merritt, 1997; Seaward, 1998). The tendency to get sick and resulting increases in absenteeism influence not only the quantity, but also the quality of functioning at work and at home.
Physically, LEOs have a much higher rate of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and tend to die seven to fourteen years earlier than civilians(Quick, Murphy et al., 1992; Mccann, 1997). Daniel Ely and Richard Mostardi Analyzed psychological and physiological data from 331 male police officers and 48 male clerks in Akron, Ohio. Questionnaires were used to assess recent life changes; life assets (social support, friendships, marital relationships); and temperament. Blood chemistry and blood pressure were also assessed. Police officers had higher blood pressure, norepinephrine levels, and recent life-changes than the clerks. Increased hostility and depression scores were associated with higher blood pressure and more life changes and fewer life-assets. “Although officers on rotating shifts had abnormally elevated NE levels, even officers on daytime duty had values approximately twice the average value reported in the literature (Nachreiner et al., 1995).”
Robin Greene and Kenneth Nowack investigated the relationship between hassles, hardiness and absenteeism in 229 private-sector employees, over a period of three years. Hassles but not hardiness predicted absenteeism and ill-health. In another study, Michael Workman evaluated the relationship between stress and illness in police officers. Three groups of officers were surveyed using a survey to identify exposure to police events or injury in the previous year, and the Holmes and Rahe Life Stress Events Scale. The findings indicate that there is a positive correlation between stressful events and illness (Workman, 1982).
John Violanti, John Vena, and James Marshall conducted a retrospective investigation of disease risk and mortality among 2,376 police officers in Buffalo, New York. In comparison to the US white, male population, officers have significantly higher mortality rates for cancer and suicide, and their risk of death from heart disease is positively correlated with years of police service. The researchers speculated that these risks are related to police occupational factors and accompanying lifestyle habituation, including a high stress work environment, irregular sleeping and eating habits, stress-related alcohol dependency, and lack of exercise (Violanti and Vena., 1986).
Chronic stress has been linked to the development of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and exacerbation of conditions such as diabetes and obesity. In 2 studies in 1997 by Fiona Biggam et al, 594 and 699 police officers were surveyed to evaluate the sources and consequences of stress in law enforcement. Examination of the data revealed the most at-risk officers exhibited high negative attitude towards emotional expression, low just world beliefs, and low levels of social support. The second study indicated that despite the potential for stress from exposure to adverse operational situations such as violence or death, the highest levels of associated stress were related to organizational factors such as staff shortages, inadequate resources and poor supervision (Biggam et al., 1997).
One of the reasons that chronic stress is so harmful is that the hormones cortisol and thyroxine which are released have a very long half-life and lead to increases in overall metabolism and the level of fatty acids in the blood stream (Hyyppae, et al., 1988; Sephton, 1996; Grossi, Theorell et al., 1999; Beerda, Schilder et al., 2000). This has been associated with increases in arterial plaque build-up leading to hypertension (McCabe et al., 2000).
As of July 1, 2002 in Florida, Workers’ Compensation now covers heart disease as a work related illness in law enforcement officers.