Webinar presenters BJ Wagner and Dr. Jill Palmer answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Healthy Police – Healthy Policing: Addressing the Police Health and Wellness Crisis from a New Perspective. Here are just a few of their responses
Audience Question: Where did you get the citations or what the sources were for all of those amazing statistics you shared at the very beginning of the presentation? Can you talk a little bit about that?
BJ Wagner: Absolutely. If we’re talking about the health statistics, the cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes statistics are all from either the National Institutes of Health or the American Heart Association. And I’m happy to send you, Christina, those citations so that you can make them available to the audience.
Audience Question: With the health statistics that show a crisis and police officer health, what is happening within the organization that people come into the profession healthy but then while still in service they become unhealthy. Can you each both talk about that?
BJ Wagner: I can see there have been a number of correlational studies there’s not been anything such as a randomized control trial or anything with scientific rigor. But there’s been a number of correlational studies that look at some of the things that naturally happen as you age, as we all get older, our bodies’ metabolism or endocrine. could all change. But if you look at what happened to the body and the endocrine system under stress, those changes happen more rapidly. So, we take our body and put it under stress as it ages, and some of those natural processes of aging, or your metabolism slows. So, you process fat, you process calories, sugars, and all of those kinds of things, much slower or much differently than that is happening kind of in a pressure cooker. But also, if you think about policing and its very early years, it can be quite sedentary. You spend a lot of time in a patrol car with a very disrupted sleep cycle, which is horrific for your health on its own. If you’re not super disciplined, you’re eating a lot of drive-through food or you’re not eating on a regular basis at all, certainly under-consuming water and over-consuming sugar. So, it’s kind of a perfect storm that would deteriorate anybody’s health. If the person is not specifically health conscious with a prevention-oriented department, health is going to deteriorate.
Audience Question: Is REM considered deep sleep? And I’m not sure which of the two of you would be better to answer this question.
Jill Palmer: Yeah, so there are a couple of different sleep processes and sleep cycles that occur during your evening sleep. REM is one of those. And you need to actually move in and out of the sleep cycles, while you’re sleeping because that is what is rejuvenating your brain and your body. Getting into that deep sleep, that REM sleep can be challenging. Because you’ve got to be asleep long enough. The cycles have to occur. You got to be able to move from the early asleep stage into the REM stage. And so those are the pieces that can be disrupted. It can also be disrupted by chronic pain, I’m a tosser-turner because of chronic pain, and so if you’re waking up because of pain or sleep apnea that’s not treated or are diagnosed yet, or any other number of things that may have you startle or wake up a little bit, those things all impact your sleep cycles and whether or not you make it into REM sleep.
Audience Question: How can we help officers who have chronic, shallow sleep, even with the assistance of medications to reset their sleep quality?
BJ Wagner: First, I would say they need to seek the advice and guidance, and care of their physician. They are already taking sleep medication then they are under the care of their physician. So, any advice that we give does not replace that. But also, it’s incredibly important for an officer to practice prevention and intervention-type health and wellness, individual practices. So, to ensure that they are proactively eating healthy, proactively exercising, and proactively practicing mindfulness, restfulness, or relaxation. So not only after a bad night’s sleep, not only after achieving sleep, but making healthy eating, wellness, and relaxation part of everyday life. So, when they achieve sleep, they’re already in that practice. But certainly, take the guidance and ongoing care of their physician.
Audience Question: How often is too often to change from a day shift to a night shift? Any take on that?
BJ Wagner: I have an emotional response to that in. I was an early social worker, I worked in an emergency room and did, did night shifts because that was a way to have another set of income. Young social workers, we need, lots of times need more than one income back 30 years ago. Changing your sleep patterns disrupts things. So, it’s very difficult. And as we age, our sleep patterns change already. So, part of the aging process is also our sleep patterns. So, lots of times younger folks can handle shifting schedules. Working one week on one week off of days and nights, that kind of stuff, because just the way the brain functions and at that younger aged, early twenties-ish. Their cycles are just different. They can stay up a little later. They can handle a little couple of days and not sleeping enough, but as we age, we aren’t able to manage that, or we aren’t able to continue with that chronic impact that’s been happening because we were doing it when we’re younger. So, I don’t know the exact answer except it is. It’s a difficult thing we’re doing to our bodies in the fields where it’s 24-hour work.
Audience Question: Jill, I know that expectations around leadership are changing. We’ve seen this even during the pandemic. We’re expecting more of our leaders, even Kate Manning, who authored the empathetic workplace, talks about how we want our leaders to be more empathetic. What are your thoughts in terms of how to encourage our leaders, our chiefs or sheriffs and departmental leaders? How do we get them to talk more proactively and more supportively with our teams about mental health, their own experiences, and encouraging people to take care of their mental health? How do we start this organizational culture change?
Jill Palmer: I’d simply like to say, mental health is health. By making sure that when leaders are looking at, or whoever is looking at your insurance contract that you do, your conversations with how your department is going to be, have their health insurance, that’s going to come to them. Talking to those people about their coverage for mental health and for prevention will help grow this conversation that mental health is health. And it will lead to conversations that will allow for there’d be more options for your prescribers who are getting your insurance through your department, your Blue Cross, Blue Shield, your Humana, whatever ——–, if there’s state coverage and stuff to start looking at the fact that more things need to be covered. Talking about mental health, documenting mental health, saying that these things are the same as being able to have consistent work schedules, as they all have access to, physical fitness. Mental health is health. It has to have parity with medical care.
BJ Wagner: I will say that we are seeing and have been seeing a welcoming culture shift in policing executives, and I think it’s because they have begun to recognize that officer wellness and good health is a capital expenditure for the department, a liability mitigator for the city or the county, and a cost reducer for the department in overtime and labor expenses. So, if nothing else, if there’s no compassion, then there is the business side of good health and solid wellness of their human capital. Which is just like keeping good tires and fresh oil in the fleet. And so, anytime I began to discuss solid officer health and wellness, I just remind them to change tires on your car, you have to keep fresh oil in your fleet, or you lose your fixed capital. Don’t lose your human capital.
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