Experts: policing is stressful
CLAIMS of stress levels approaching breaking point within the ranks of Coffs Harbour police have come as no surprise to a local expert in work-related stress.
Southern Cross University psychology lecturer Dr James Donnelly said recent reports of so many officers being on sick or stress leave were very telling.
“Police officers are well-versed in coping with situational short-term stress that comes with the job but they are often unable to be so accommodating when the stress is ongoing, and perceived by them to be coming from within.
“Work-related stress arises when there is either a violation of expectancies or the perception of a threat,” Dr Donnelly said.
“When both factors come into play, when workers feel they aren’t getting the backup and support they were promised and they can’t see the situation changing, it can be very damaging.”
Dr Donnelly said when people in normally stressful jobs can’t cope with added stress they can shut down emotionally and adopt a very mechanical mindset.
“For police to survive in an environment that is both challenging and unpredictable it is essential that they are surrounded by reliability and consistency,” he said.
“The problem is police need to be in tune with what is going on but if they are de-sensitised by stress, they can lose that subtlety of response. They really do need time out to relax, find some balance and reconnect with what is important to them. If they are denied that leave because they are being asked to do overtime, they can get physically ill and feel demoralised.”
Clinical psychologist Darryl Cross said when professionals feel they have lost control in their workplace they can succumb to a sense of hopelessness.
“Human beings thrive on hope, hence the saying hope springs eternal,” Dr Cross said.
“But if people feel they are no longer in control in their working life and they can’t see that anything is going to change they can easily become depressed and lose their connection with not just colleagues but also other people in their lives.
“Prolonged stress over time leads to burn out – it’s as simple as that.
“And when people have made a commitment to something as demanding as policing, that burn out can quickly escalate into something I call the ‘Mack truck effect’ which leads to a major breakdown in health and relationships,” Dr Cross said.
People seeking professional psychological assistance for stress or workplace issues can freecall ‘find-a-psychologist’ on 1800 333 497, or go to www.psychology.org.au.