Are antidepressants dangerous medications for cops?


That question was raised recently on the listserv for the IACP’s

Psychological Services Section. A psych professional from south Florida

reported noticing of late “a marked increase in police officers being

prescribed” antidepressants, known pharmacologically as SSRIs (selective

serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These include common brand-name drugs such

as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvoc and Lexapro.



The staffer was curious about the possible negative effects of SSRIs on an

officer’s reaction time.


Other respondents, in effect, told him to rest easy. “Little evidence

supports a SSRI problem,” wrote a PhD from Louisiana, who cited studies in

the journal Psychopharmacology for Apr. 2001 and Jan. 2002. “Also recall,”

this correspondent suggested, “that untreated, emotionally impaired

officers may also have a reaction-time risk.”


A police psychologist from Colorado noted that he used to treat airline

pilots who were depressed but could not take antidepressants because they

would not be allowed to fly if they did. “I always thought this was odd,”

he wrote, “since I would rather have a depressed pilot on an SSRI who was

feeling good than have a depressed pilot not taking anything and feeling

lousy. I feel the same about police.”


Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center

at Minnesota State University-Mankato, emphatically agrees. A specialist in

law enforcement psychology for more than 30 years, Lewinski is an

internationally recognized expert in police reaction times in lethal force



“Most of the time that’s required for you to react to a threat is taken up

with perceiving the danger, processing that information, deciding what to

do and then sending commands from your brain to your body to react,”

Lewinski explains. “The actual mechanical action of pulling a trigger to

defend yourself requires only 6/100 of a second, a very minute portion of

overall reaction time.


“The ‘front end’ of reacting, so to speak, depends on your ability to pay

attention to what’s going on around you so you pick up danger cues. If

you’re not or can’t be attentive because of your emotional state, the rest

is irrelevant.


“If you’re depressed you are preoccupied with your own suffering, your own

bleak view of the world. You’re focused inward, not focused on what’s

important ‘out there’ in the environment around you.


“Any effect on reaction time by antidepressant medication is miniscule

compared to the profound impairment of cognition, information processing

and survival-oriented decision-making caused by untreated depression.”


The case of a Midwestern officer who shot and killed an assailant and who

was himself slightly injured in a gunfight serves as a dramatic

illustration. This officer’s reactions were so blunted by untreated

post-traumatic depression that he had difficulty even tracking radio calls.

“By the time he tuned in to a dispatch, the message was almost over,” says

a therapist who knew him. “He’d ask the dispatcher to repeat, fully

determined to pay close attention to what was said, but he couldn’t

remember long enough after hearing the words to write them down. You can

imagine how unprepared he was for any tactical challenges.”


“You shouldn’t even be working if you have a seriously depressed frame of

mind,” Lewinski declares. “Yet many officers won’t seek help for

depression, either with medication or through counseling, because they’re

afraid they’ll be stigmatized for getting psychological aid. Instead, they

compromise their safety and effectiveness by trying to tough it out.”


Depression can arise from a number of causes, including your life

experiences, your body chemistry, mental illness and post-traumatic stress

disorder. Lewinski advises that if you have any lasting symptoms from the

following list, it would be wise to seek professional investigation and



–Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

–Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

–Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

–Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once

enjoyed, including sex

–Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”

–Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

–Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

–Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain

–Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts

–Restlessness, irritability

–Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as

headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.


“Ironically,” Lewinski says, “when a depressed officer knows he is

responding to a high-risk call, the adrenalin surge will tend to counteract

the effect of his depression and his judgment, alertness and reaction time

may well be appropriately sharp for the situation.


“But on seemingly ‘routine’ calls, such as ‘ordinary’ traffic stops, the

depression will dominate his mental state and significantly affect his

sixth sense and tactical awareness, making it more difficult for him to

perceive an evolving threat. He’ll be way behind the reactionary curve and

detect any danger cues too late. And we know that most officers die not on

known high-risk calls but in common patrol situations that appear benign at

the outset.”


Lewinski strongly advocates combining antidepressant medication with

psychological therapy and a self-administered program of positive

self-talk, such as described in the popular police text “The Tactical

Edge”. “The combination of medication, therapy and your own positive belief

system can have a powerful impact on your survival,” he says.


The effects of antidepressant medication vary from individual to

individual, and in a small minority of cases SSRI drugs may not work at

all, Lewinski told Force Science News. It may take some experimentation for

a physician to find the right drug and dosage for you. “Once you find a

helpful medication with minimal personal side effects, the better you’ll

operate on the street and in life,” Lewinski says. “If you feel better,

you’re going to be more attentive…and much safer.”


[Thanks to Force Science News member Wayne Schmidt, executive director of

Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, for bringing this subject to our







Three representatives of the Force Science Research Center will be among

the instructors for a new, annual use-of-force training seminar that debuts

next month in Las Vegas, NV.


Sponsored by the nonprofit Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, the

police legal support organization, the “Lethal and Less-Lethal Force”

workshop will feature the latest legal, psychological and physical

developments regarding officer-involved force encounters.


The program will run from Feb. 13-15 and is especially recommended for LE

command staff, city and county attorneys, police legal advisors and risk



Eight nationally known instructors will present up-to-the-minute content on

the legal, political and practical aspects of today’s most urgent force

issues, including:


–Case law analysis of lethal and less-lethal force liability, and the

current legal standards for force application;


–Psychology of combat and the dynamics of violent encounters, drawn from

research of hundreds of officer-involved shootings;


–Important psychological factors, including perceptual and memory

distortions, that need to be accommodated when conducting reliable

investigations of lethal encounters;


–FSRC’s latest ground-breaking findings on the critical human dynamics of

armed confrontations, including “demystification” of controversial shots in

the suspect’s back during a frontal attack;


–Most current Taser policy, procedures and research, and how to “tame the

media frenzy” when Taser and other force applications are questioned;


–Revelations of medical research into sudden and in-custody deaths, plus

“defenses to the legal onslaught;”


–Implications of using less-lethal force in suicide-by-cop and EDP

situations, with relevant case studies dissected;


–Emerging models for use-of-force continuum redesign, including where to

place various tools and tactics on the force scale and how best to use the

continuum in court;


–Policies, procedures, training, successes and abuses of a wide range of

deadly and less-lethal devices, techniques and strategies;


–Aftermath of force applications, including investigative strategies and

legal implications of internal vs. review board vs. criminal investigations.


On the faculty from FSRC will be executive director Dr. Bill Lewinski, one

of the world’s leading researchers into life-threatening officer-suspect

confrontations; Dr. Alexis Artwohl, a foremost police psychologist,

co-author of the book, “Deadly Force Encounters” and a principal in the

Survival Triangle Training organization; and Charles Remsberg, author of 3

popular books on officer safety and a senior correspondent for Artwohl and Remsberg are members of FSRC’s National Advisory



Other faculty members are: Michael Brave, president of LAAW International

and a former intelligence and investigative operations chief for the

Justice Dept., with extensive experience as a police defense attorney and

litigation consultant; Jeff Chudwin, chief of a Chicago-area PD, former

prosecutor, president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. and a widely

recognized expert in high-level use-of-force incidents; Ken Katsaris,

regional academy instructor, former sheriff, and a popular expert witness

and litigation consultant, with experience in all 50 states; Capt. Greg

Meyer of the Los Angeles Police Academy, a specialist in policy, training,

equipment, tactics and supervision, with a focus on reducing injuries in

force encounters; and Dr. John Peters, president of the Institute for the

Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, former LEO and administrator, and creator

of numerous books, articles and informational videos on force issues.


For more information or for registration, contact the AELE Law Enforcement

Legal Center at 800-763-2802 or visit the AELE website at






We continue to get email responses from Force Science News readers

regarding our 2-part series on the recommendations of an IACP consultant

about how to deal with suspected homicide/suicide bombers.


[You can read Force Science News #26 and #27 in the Force Science News

archives when you click "View All" at this location: ]


Tactical team commander Patrick Flannelly, with the Lafayette (IN) PD



It is disturbing to see the feedback from so many people who indicate that

“most” of their officers are not prepared to take a well-aimed, directed

[head] shot. My question then becomes, “What will you want your officers to

do if they are presented with a suicidal bomber?” The best shooters in the

world might miss this shot under extreme duress. Does that mean we tell

them not to take the shot because they might miss?


If we train our officers to maximize their skills and prepare them to be

accountable for the oath they swore then in the end that is really all we

can ask. Imagine what might have become of the flight [on 9/11] that

crashed in the middle of a Pennsylvania field if some of the passengers had

not been bold enough to make a decision and then act on it.


Dep. Tom Robbins, Carver County (MN) S.O., with 20 years’ SWAT experience,



As terrorism continues in this country–and it will–law enforcement is

going to have to rethink the way we do business.


With proper training and indoctrination, I think we can show law

enforcement that it is necessary to hit terrorism hard and head-on. The

public is another matter. The public wants us to protect them, but they do

not want to know what we have to do to accomplish that mission. The level

of violence required to deal with violent people is very unsettling to most



The first officer to make the decision to kill a terrorist without warning

before he can kill innocent people will be crucified. Everything about that

incident will be questioned: Where did the officer get the information? How

reliable is it? Why didn’t the officer give the terrorist a chance to

surrender? Why couldn’t he have used some other tactic to disarm him? And

on and on.


What will change public perception? Terrorism. When we are dealing with

terrorist activity on a monthly or weekly basis, when bus stations are

being blown up and children are being murdered in their classrooms, the

public will demand that we deal with terrorists quickly and effectively.

Unfortunately people need to get scared before they will accept a change in

our response.



(c) 2006: Force Science Research Center, Reprints

allowed by request. For reprint clearance, please e-mail: FORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of The

Force Science Research Center, a non-profit organization based at Minnesota

State University, Mankato.



Written by Force Science Institute

January 3rd, 2006 at 4:21 pm

Force Science News #35:

Should Troubled Officers Take Antidepressant Medication?

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.