Stress and Health in the Police: A Conceptual Framework

Stress and Health in the Police: A Conceptual Framework

Daniela Gutschmidt and Antonio Vera | Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice

Stress and Health in the Police: A Conceptual Framework

Daniela Gutschmidt andAntonio Vera | Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice


"Policing is considered a very satisfying, yet stressful profession (Anshel, 2000). Previous studies have revealed high rates of health problems such as heart disease, stomach disorders, depression, burnout, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol abuse, and suicidal behaviour among police officers (Anderson et al., 2002; Anshel, 2000; McCreary and Thompson, 2006; Morash et al., 2006; Papazoglou and Blumberg, 2019), which is often attributed to the stress associated with the police occupation.

Stress generally plays a decisive role in the development of physical and mental illness (Ingram and Luxton, 2005). However, as the interrelationships are complex, a differentiated consideration of the underlying processes is required. First, stressful experiences can also have advantages for mental health and well-being if they are moderate. In fact, people with a history of some lifetime adversity report higher life satisfaction levels than people with both a high history or no history of adversity (Seery et al., 2010). Thus, characteristics of the stressors such as intensity and frequency are relevant. Secondly, not all individuals develop disorders when exposed to stress. Modern models of psychopathology combine vulnerability and stress in order to describe the processes of either maintenance or impairment of health (Ingram and Luxton, 2005). These vulnerability factors include preconditions such as age, gender, personality traits, and social environment. Thirdly, moderating factors, especially coping strategies in response to the stressor, can explain why some individuals maintain their health or even experience growth, while others develop severe disorders. Each of the personal vulnerability factors, stressors, and health consequences can be located on a biological, psychological, and social level. Stress generally has both a physical and a mental component, and in the case of the police, where stressors are usually faced within a group of co-workers, social factors are particularly relevant.

The present article takes these aspects into account and applies the general biopsychosocial and vulnerability-stress model on the impact of police stress on health. Thereby, it provides a conceptual framework for the research on police-specific aspects of the stress management process. For this purpose, the article first gives an overview of the concepts of vulnerability, stress, coping, and health in the context of policing, including relevant findings from police stress research, then develops a conceptual model of stress and health in the police, and, finally, concludes with a discussion of its implications and limitations."


"This article aims to account for the growing importance of health in policing and contribute to its investigation by providing a conceptual framework of the impact of police stress on health. It shall help researchers to systemize existing studies and to take a holistic view of this complex topic. Furthermore, it aims to help practitioners to better understand the mechanisms of police stress and to implement appropriate health interventions. Overall, the article should contribute to preventing harmful consequences such as police officers’ burnout, suicide, and excessive use of force.

It is important to point out, once again, that organizational characteristics are at least as important for police officers’ health as operational experiences (Burke and Paton, 2006). Therefore, the causes of, and responsibility for, health should not be seen solely in the individual officer and the job-related circumstances. Shaping the organizational context is also crucial. Effective police work is only possible if appropriate training, assessment, support, counselling, and successful personnel selection are ensured (Violanti et al., 2008; Zhao et al., 2002). Police stress and its health consequences also have an impact on job satisfaction, commitment, and performance of police officers, and therefore on the organization as a whole (McCreary and Thompson, 2006; Shane, 2010). Thus, understanding and supporting the stress management process is essential from many perspectives and should be the subject of future investigations."

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Stress and Health in the Police: A Conceptual Framework, Daniela Gutschmidt and Antonio Vera, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 2020