As police officers we should have a general understanding of recognizing abnormal psychology. The understanding of abnormal psychology goes deeper into any academy or in-service training that officers will receive regarding emotionally disturbed persons, but it is the core and roots to any call involving an EDP.

There are several disorders that will be discussed briefly. These disorders include anxiety disorders, stress disorders, somatoform and dissociative disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders.

Anxiety disorders can be broken down into four categories. These categories include general anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Individuals with general anxiety disorder experience excessive anxiety under most circumstances and worry about practically anything. Many individuals with this disorder experience depression as well. Women outnumber men 2 to 1 with this disorder. Phobias are characterized by a persistent, debilitating, and severe fear of specific objects. A person with a phobia feels helpless in controlling fear 10 to 11 % of the adults in the U.S. suffer from a phobia. Phobias are twice as common in women as in men. An example of a phobia would be a fear of snakes. Panic Disorder: Experience repeated episodes of periodic, discrete bouts of panic that occur suddenly, reach a peak within 10 minutes, and gradually pass. Symptoms of panic include palpitations of the heart, tingling in the hands or feet, shortness of breath, hot and cold flashes, trembling, chest pains, choking sensations, faintness, dizziness, and a feeling of unreality. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is when a person has recurrent and unwanted thoughts, a need to perform repetitive and rigid actions including excessive, unreasonable, causes great distress, consumes considerable time, and interferes with daily functions.  Obsessive compulsive disorder is equally common among men and women and usually begins in young adulthood.

Stress disorders can be broken down into two categories. These categories include acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals with acute stress disorder experience fear and related symptoms are experienced soon after a traumatic event and last less than a month. PTSD on the other hand the individual will experience stress long after the event. The event usually involves actual or threatened serious injury to the person or to a family member or friend. Examples may include combat, rape or serious accident. People with PTSD may be battered by recurring memories, dreams, or nightmares connected to the event. A few relive the event so vividly in their minds (flashbacks) that they think it is actually happening again. These individuals will usually avoid activities that remind them of the traumatic event and will try to avoid related thoughts, feelings, or conversations. These individuals may have reduced responsiveness to events in the external world and may lose their ability to experience such intimate emotions. They may feel dazed, have trouble remembering things, may feel that their body is unreal or foreign to them. They may feel overly alter, easily startled, develop sleep problems, have trouble concentrating and experience guilt.

Somatoform Disorders is pattern of physical complaints that is explained largely by psychosocial causes. They believe their problems are generally medical and a change in physical functioning may occur. Dissociative disorders are marked by major changes in memory that do not have clear physical causes. This may be the inability to remember important personal events or information.

Mood disorders can be broken down into two categories. These categories include unipolar disorder and bi-polar disorder. Prior to understanding these mood disorders, we must first understand the concepts of depression and mania. Depression is a low, sad state marked by significant levels of sadness, lack of energy, low self-worth, guilt, or related symptoms. Depression may be triggered by stressful events. Other explanations of depression focus on biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling of emptiness, lose their sense of humor
  • Crying spells
  • The individual may have to force themselves to work, talk with friends
  • Lack of drive, initiative, spontaneity
  • May experience anxiety, anger, agitation
  • Loss of desire to pursue their usual activities
  • May speak slower
  • Less productive
  • Lack of energy
  • Negative views of themselves

Mania, on the other hand is a state or episode of euphoria or frenzied activity in which people may have an exaggerated belief that the world is theirs for the taking. Mania may include dramatic inappropriate rises in mood to abnormally high or irritable. People with mania seem to want constant excitement, involvement and companionship during manic episode.

Unipolar disorder is depression without a history of mania. An individual with unipolar disorder has a normal mood of depression. Between 5% -10% of adults in the U.S. suffer from severe unipolar depression, women being twice as likely to suffer. Bi-polar disorder is marked by altering or intermixed periods of mania and depression. Bi-polar disorder is an emotional rollercoaster which shifts back and forth between moods.

There are a wide variety of schizophrenic conditions, ranging from fairly good reality contact to major disorganization and deterioration of behavior.  Schizophrenia can be characterized as patterns of bizarre conduct. Individual with schizophrenia may show a loss of control, often with paranoia, an inability to communicate logically, and hallucinatory behavior. Characteristics of schizophrenia may include: 

  • Thoughts and speech appear illogical, or loosely and incoherently connected
  • Unrelated attitude in conversation
  • Words may be combined in a meaningless string
  • Attention fades in and out
  • Severe indecisiveness and an inability to carry out normal activities
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Lack of drive or motivation
  • Withdrawn or absorbed in their own thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoid thinking
  • Irrational belief that he is superior; has a special calling; is God
  • Hostility and belligerence
  • Repetitive movements
  • Incoherent and illogical patterns of thought and speech
  • Belief that someone is controlling their thoughts put thoughts into their head, or that people can read their thoughts
  • Dramatically increased or decreased body movements (characteristic of what is called catatonic schizophrenia)
  • Impaired impulse control

Medications that are used to treat individuals who are psychotic and/ or delusional include:

  • Haldol
  • Prolixin
  • Stellazine
  • Clozaril
  • Risperdal
  • Zyprexa
  • Geodan
  • Abilify

Personality disorders are separated into 3 groups. These groups include odd or eccentric behavior, dramatic behavior and high degree of anxiety. Personality disorders are a very rigid pattern of inner experience and outward behavior that differs from the expectations of one’s culture and leads to dysfunctions. A pattern is stable and long-lasting, and its onset can be traced back at least to adolescence or early adulthood.

Community policing is about understanding your community as well as specific communities within your patrol area. Encounters with emotionally disturbed persons are frequent and sensitive police interactions. Dealing with people who are emotionally disturbed requires a high degree of skill and sensitivity. Officers who have a better understanding of abnormal psychology will be better prepared to intervene tactfully and sensitively in these situations and will be able to resolve the situation safely and effectively.
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