Police staff have a higher risk for metabolic syndrome, dangerously linked to stroke

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Prevention is key

Stroke is one of Australia’s leading causes of disability and death. 

More than 80% of strokes can be prevented and in 1/3 of cases, survivors are of working age.

And for adults who are working in the force, it also means a career change.

With stroke figures set to rise to one million Australians by 2050 (more than double the current number), police officers should educate themselves about this disease.

What is a stroke?

You might know the effects of a stroke, but it’s important to understand why it happens.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel connected to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked (an ischaemic stroke) or ruptures and begins a bleed (a haemorrhagic stroke). 

Both can lead to part of the brain dying, followed by sudden impairment.

It causes paralysis of certain parts of the body that’s normally controlled by the region of the brain impacted by the stroke.

Other symptoms may include speech problems, having trouble swallowing, vision issues, and cognitive limitations.

But here’s the good news: Strokes are often preventable.

You can control the risk factors and reduce the likelihood of it by keeping your blood pressure low, being active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking.

1/4 risk for men, 1/5 for women, by age 85

While there isn’t a direct link between first responders and higher stroke rates, there isn’t a shortage of reports that detail the culture of substance abuse, poor diet, and associated diseases (like diabetes and high blood pressure).

Police officers have been found to rely on alcohol, smoking and junk food, as stress relief.

The daily exposure to trauma, death and unimaginable characters send workers reaching for these substances as coping tools.

When a knock off drink symbolises ‘don’t talk to me about work’.

The ongoing pressure of shift work and night hours make routine difficult.

Officers might disregard exercise and skip home-cooked meals, which lead to weight gain and constant fatigue.

Health after retirement

In his book Armor Your Self, John Marx states 48% of males (and 40% of females) consume alcohol excessively.

His alarming figures are backed up by a host of statistics around mental health, obesity, cancer, and an increased metabolic syndrome (a group of symptoms that includes abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and stroke).

Marx also talks about something called, ‘Blue Trauma Syndrome’ – a spectrum of negative physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health effects, manifested by career law enforcement people.

You can’t see it, touch it and most times, even describe it.

But it attacks officers every day. Often, it’s dismissed as signs of burnout, bad moods and anger.

When really, it’s depression, guilt, misery and emotional exhaustion.

The ‘Bucket’ metaphor is something all officers resonate with.

Over the course of a career, officers fill their bucket with ‘stuff’, like death, trauma and tragedy.

The bucket overflows with memories, emotions, horrible images, smells, sounds, photos and descriptions.

If it’s not emptied, it spills – breaking point.

These memories don’t just go away after retirement. We’ve heard too many harrowing mental health stories in ex-policemen (and women).

Police Health can help

Police Health understands the unique health needs of the police community, because we’ve been looking after them for over 85 years.

Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We’re here to help.   

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