National Wellness Survey Reveals Changes in Stressors for Public Safety

Concerns about COVID exposure and a general misunderstanding by the public and government officials were ahead of responding to critical incidents in terms of contributing to stress for law enforcement officers. 
VACP Executive Director Dana Schrad
VACP President Col. Jeffrey S. Katz

VACP Past President Chief Maggie DeBoard

Negative media about the law enforcement profession is at the top of a list of most commonly endorsed law enforcement stressors, according to the recently released results of the National Wellness Survey for Public Safety Personnel conducted in 2021. Concerns about COVID exposure and a general misunderstanding by the public and government officials were ahead of responding to critical incidents in terms of contributing to stress for law enforcement officers. 

In 2022, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police released the Virginia summary report. This month, the national results compiled from the National Wellness Survey for Public Safety Personnel are being released. The National Survey data collection was facilitated by the United States Marshals Service (USMS) working closely with Dr. Michael Bourke (USMA retired), Lt. Jaysyn Carson from the Herndon Police Department, Dr. Jill Milloy from the Fairfax County Police Department, Dr. Colby Mills, licensed clinical psychologist, and Nova Southeastern University.

The survey is the result of voluntary responses from police, fire and rescue, EMS, dispatch, and corrections. The objective was to assess the impact of public safety work on individual wellness and capture the effects of the current climate on personnel. The survey results indicate the need for a wide variety of resources to assist in diagnosing and treating officers who are struggling in silence from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

"It is imperative that resources are developed to treat those who need help now," said VACP Past President and Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard. The survey results clearly demonstrate that we have a large number of first responders who are working while wounded. And the statistics for Virginia law enforcement officers previously released are more troubling than the national survey results below." 

According to Chief DeBoard, “resources are not just needed when a traumatic incident happens. They are needed in the early stages of an officer's career to prevent the damaging effects from traumatic exposures and to teach recruits how to cope with and manage stress before they even leave the academy”.

This year, the General Assembly recognized the critical need for mental health support for first responders by passing HB 1775 that amends § 65.2-107 of the Code of Virginia to provide workers compensation for anxiety disorder or depressive disorder incurred by law-enforcement officers and firefighters as a result of a work-related qualifying event. The law will take effect on July 1, 2023. This bill is about prevention and will address a significant gap in treating the emotional trauma officers experience regularly on the job by providing competent behavioral health professionals to help them cope with difficult incidents.

“We must be forever mindful that our nation's first responders are ordinary people who endeavor to provide essential services, often under the most extraordinary circumstances,” said VACP President and Chesterfield County Police Chief Col. Jeffrey Katz. “Exposure to trauma is endemic to our role in society. First responders' exposure to suffering, violence, and sudden unnatural death is a common feature of this career. We are not naturally wired to cope with either acute or cumulative exposure of this nature. Our profession has advanced to the point where we recognize we must train our first responders to adopt practices that contribute to wellness and resilience proactively – and that systems must be in place to marshal our first responders through competent care and rehabilitation when the weight of struggle begins to feel overwhelming. I am deeply concerned – but not surprised by – this data.”

Results Summaries

Key Statistics from the National Summary of Responses

Most Commonly Endorsed Law Enforcement Stressors:

  • Negative media about the profession (84%)
  • Concerns about exposure to COVID-19 (75%)
  • Negative attitudes from the public about the profession (71%)
  • Government officials outside of law enforcement do not understand what officers face (61%)
  • Responding to critical incidents (59%)

Law enforcement stressors associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide ideation, and intent to leave their jobs include:

  • Dissatisfaction with role/assignment
  • Low morale in the workplace
  • Leadership doesn't understand the challenges officers face

Percentage of survey respondents who reached clinically significant scores of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide ideation:

  Law Enforcement Fire & Rescue Dispatchers National Average
Depression 6% 10% 17% 8.4%
Anxiety 16% 18% 30% 2.7%
PTSD 11% 12% 18% 3.6%
Suicide Ideation 7% 10% 14% 4.9%



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