Utah Police, Health Care Workers At Greater Risk For Mental Health Problems During Pandemic, Study Says

Jul 16, 2020, 9:30 PM | Updated: 9:36 pm

WEST JORDAN, Utah – As cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in Utah, first responders are feeling mental strain. Add all of last month’s protests and riots to that, and police are under even greater pressure.

Scientists at the University of Utah wanted to know how that’s affecting their mental health.

“There is a palpable sense of more stress,” said Detective Robert Lofgran with the West Jordan Police Department.

Though he enjoys his job, Lofgran sometimes finds it difficult to stay optimistic while in the face of anger from many in the public.

“Feeling downright hated at times,” Lofgran said bluntly.

Life is more challenging right now for police officers like Detective Robert Lofgran of the West Jordan Police…

Posted by Heather Simonsen KSL on Thursday, July 16, 2020

Their jobs are also more dangerous as they respond to more violence and mental health emergencies.

“Definitely more stressful, they take more time to do and just more stress trying to de-escalate the situation,” added Lofgran.

Dr. Andrew Smith, a clinical psychology professor at the U., and Dr. Tiffany Love, a professor in the U.’s Department of Psychiatry, are studying the effects of higher stress on first responders’ mental health.

“What we’re looking at is how the pandemic is affecting levels of depression, anxiety and just feelings of distress, and we’re also looking at resiliency factors,” Love said. “We’re seeing almost a two-fold increase in depression, anxiety and stress.”

Smith, who is the lead author of the study, said, “They’re much elevated for risk anxiety, traumatic stress, depression, insufficient sleep and hazardous alcohol use.”

Preliminary results of the study showed 23 percent of healthcare workers and 16 percent of police and fire personnel have a probable diagnosis of anxiety. Twenty percent of all first responders are showing signs of depression and about 15 percent are at risk for traumatic stress.

There’s no known baseline comparison study in Utah, but here is some context from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Stress was significantly higher for health care workers during the SARS epidemic, as five percent of health care workers experienced acute traumatic stress during that epidemic, 11 percent suffered severe depression and between 10.2-12 percent suffered severe anxiety.

It’s also slightly higher than it is for police in Buffalo, New York, during non-crisis times.

Police in West Jordan have been finding resilience through community support. They were heartened to find messages of hope written on construction paper hearts from neighborhood kids cheering them on.

“And then you see, you know what, I think the general population still supports us, and it does make a difference,” Lofgran said.

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Utah Police, Health Care Workers At Greater Risk For Mental Health Problems During Pandemic, Study Says