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Ounces of Prevention

May 01, 2008  |  by Kell Kyrik

Heart Attack/Stroke

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in adults as well as the leading cause of death among diabetics. Obesity and inactivity raise the risk of heart disease because overweight people tend to have high blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

But just because you're fit doesn't mean that you are safe. Stress is another big culprit. And police work is obviously stressful.

It's important to reduce the risk factors for heart disease before there is a problem, since those who've had one heart attack are much more likely to have another. The first stop is the doctor. A full physical should be performed every year, and that should include tests to gauge the risk of heart disease.

Perhaps the hardest risk factor to "fix," however, is stress. Cops are tough and, in general, they tend to keep their feelings close to the vest. But one of the best stress relievers is to talk to others: spouses, friends, peers who understand the strain of the job.

In addition, you need to find your own stress relievers. A hobby, spiritual endeavors, outings with the family, a night out with the guys; whatever helps relieve the pressure.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is probably one of the most common and yet least understood health hazards faced by police officers. It's well known that soldiers coming back from battle are prime candidates for PTSD, but most cops don't realize that PTSD can happen to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event.

Even though officers try to stay psychologically prepared to deal with troubling incidents, it's not always possible. Especially when the incident is life threatening or particularly emotional such as the death of a child or partner.

PTSD symptoms can take many forms, including nightmares, withdrawal from friends and family, a constant reliving of the trauma, difficulty sleeping, etc. But the most important thing to know about PTSD is that it's treatable.

In order to get past it, however, an officer needs to work it out with a trained professional, such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. With treatment, PTSD can resolve in as little as a couple of months, although, for particularly difficult cases, it may take longer. If left untreated, however, PTSD will almost certainly affect an officer's entire life, both at home and on the job.

Alcohol Abuse

The misuse of alcohol is the worst-kept secret in law enforcement. A lot of cops turn to the bottle to relieve stress. But using alcohol as a stress reliever almost always backfires. Alcohol is a depressant, and heavy drinkers often become more angry, depressed, and stressed out than before.

Alcohol abuse is a tough nut to crack. It's very difficult for those who misuse alcohol to admit it, let alone do something about it. And that's especially true when it comes to those in police work, where stoicism is a way of life. But it's important that you don't drown your troubles in drink.


Although depression comes in many forms, there are basically two types: clinical and situational. Those with clinical depression (a.k.a. Major Depressive Disorder) are down for long periods of time (two weeks or more) and are sad for no particular reason.

Situational depression, however, is due to a particular circumstance; for example, the loss of a loved one or an emotional event that causes sad feelings. Cops are prone to situational depression, but you also need to watch for signs of clinical depression, as well.

Loss of pleasure in everyday activities is a common symptom, as is an overwhelming feeling of sadness or even grief. Other symptoms include apathy, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunction, and sleep disturbances.

If these symptoms are due to a particular event and go away on their own, no treatment is necessary. If, however, the symptoms continue for more than several weeks and/or increase in severity, then it's time to seek medical attention. Medication is often prescribed and relief can be felt in as little as 24 to 48 hours.

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