New Article Explores Police Officer Barriers to Mental Health

Wilson Center Postdoc Dr. Meret Hofer co-wrote an article identifying police officers' treatment seeking barriers in order to outline a multi-pronged strategy for improving the accessibility of mental health services for police.

The paper, “There Was No Plan in Place to Get Us Help”: Strategies for Improving Mental Health Service Utilization Among Law Enforcement — co-written with Shannon M. Savell of the University of Virginia — was published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology.

"While recent policy reports have emphasized the need for addressing police officers’ well-being and mental health as part comprehensive police reforms, and police leaders are taking the need for mental health care seriously by developing access to such services, few concrete recommendations have been made for improving officers’ mental health service utilization," Hofer said of the article.

Read the abstract:

"Police experience a documented, elevated need for mental health (MH) care due to the significant chronic stressors and acute traumatic experiences that characterize police work. Yet, many barriers prevent officers from accessing and engaging fully in MH treatment. The purpose of this study is to understand the idiosyncratic officer-perceived barriers and facilitators to MH service utilization to generate strategies for increasing the accessibility of MH resources. Heeding the call for more qualitative work in this line of inquiry, we used thematic analysis of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a sample of 48 U.S. police officers to examine how officers came to initiate MH services, why they chose to engage or not engage such resources, and what organizational and supervisory factors promoted service utilization. Officers’ narratives show that police leadership should strive to (1) alleviate fear of negative professional consequences by addressing structural stigma, (2) improve agency culture and social norms around mental health care by focusing on prevention and resilience, and (3) emphasize the development of relevant and trustworthy MH care. To address structural barriers, officers described the urgent need for police leadership to clarify and make transparent organizational MH policies and processes, systematize departmental MH responses, and leverage mandated counseling. Additionally, officers perceived the need for a cultural shift emphasizing comprehensive, incentivized, preventative MH services. Finally, officers’ concerns regarding the quality of MH care encompassed the need for confidential, trustworthy services grounded in the realities of police work. Implications for research and practice are discussed."