Police work is tough. There are long hours, you see first-hand some of the lowest points of humanity and there is a tremendous amount of pressure to “stay strong” for your community and coworkers. But this doesn’t begin to touch why law enforcement is a difficult profession. Jobs like these come with certain occupational hazards, but not always in the form of a gun or dangerous suspect. Nor are the dangers necessarily obvious. Depression in police work, for example, is often referred to as a “silent killer.” The pain in most cases is on the inside, hidden away from others and all too often untreated. At its worst, depression leads to suicide. It’s not to be taken lightly.
How to Recognize You’re Depressed
“Toughness and bravery are common characteristics of police officers and necessary in a dangerous situation, but it becomes a double-edge sword in the case of depression,” said Abby Sokunbi, M.D., an Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Katy Clinic.
Untreated depression isn’t something you can just “get over” or “exercise away.” It isn’t made up. Depression is real and if left untreated can be extremely dangerous just like other serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. And as with any illness, the first step to treating depression is being able to recognize symptoms.
Just as we are unique as people, depression manifests itself uniquely. It typically starts gradually. You might feel tired regardless of how much sleep you have had. It might feel physically difficult to get out of bed and you might be feeling a physically heavy sensation in your body. These are usually the first signs that something is amiss. Here are some other things to look for:
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
- Decreased energy.
- Irritability with people or situations that wouldn’t normally irritate you.
- Overeating or loss of appetite.
- Aches and pains or digestive problems that won’t go away.
- Feelings of emptiness or sadness.
- Loss of interest in hobbies you used to enjoy.
- Difficulty concentrating on one task for an extended period of time.
- Withdrawing from other officers.
- Reckless drinking of alcohol.
- Difficulty functioning in your personal life.
- Taking unnecessary risks.
- Anger and rage that’s out of character.
While there isn’t a specific known cause of depression, there are some things physicians believe contribute to it more than others. Among these are genetics, hormones, biological change in your brain, conflict in your life, death or loss, major life events (even ones that are considered “happy” events like getting a new job or getting married), serious illness, substance abuse, certain medication and personal problems.
Don’t Ignore Depression
“Depression generally isn’t a disorder you can treat on your own. If you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor. Untreated depression can result in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life. Your doctor can help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms,” Dr. Sokunbi said.
If depression is diagnosed, treatment may include antidepressant medication and psychological counseling, depending on the type of depression and severity.
Tips for Preventing Depression
There’s no sure-fire way to prevent depression, but these strategies may help:
- Control stress.
- Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis, to help you through the rough spells.
- Seek treatment at the earliest sign of a problem to help prevent depression from worsening.