A look at officer mental health and community relations
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
More police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017, there were an estimated 140 law enforcement suicides.
Law enforcement officers suffer from more depression, PTSD, burnout, and anxiety than others.
Balancing home and work is challenging for all professions. For police officers and others with more traumatic careers, it can be life-changing. They face danger and uncertainty every time they walk out of the door.
Juggling the stresses of police work and home life are hard for them as they anticipate trauma, violence, and danger every day. A recent national policing conference in Elkhart, Indiana, addressed this serious issue to help officers find a better balance between work and home life.
The stresses of an on-duty officer can range from line of duty injuries, line-of-duty deaths, calls with infant mortality, domestic violence, and law enforcement suicides. The last one is perhaps the most sobering fact for all.
The National Association on Mental Illness reports that nearly 1 in 4 police officers has had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. It is true for all departments of all cities, big and small. A small town or a small department doesn’t necessarily mean less crime or stress. In fact, smaller departments face four times more the national average of officer suicides.
It is vital that departments spread mental health awareness among law enforcement officers, their friends, and families. Counselors, co-workers, and family members have to work with them to deal with their stress and take preventive measures.
Agencies are also working on increasing the resources available for officers. Measures like these can help officers become more resilient and inculcate healthy coping skills.
There is a lot of debate in the media about mental health awareness in law enforcement, but not so much from the officer’s perspective. While it is imperative that our officers be trained to handle a mental health-related situation better, it is also essential they address their own issues well.
In these times, when all eyes are on the law enforcement and rebuilding community relations is a big focus, the first step is ensuring that our officers are performing at their best mental and physical states.
Hostile situations and officer shootings are on the rise. Seeing a fellow office go down is even harder than sustaining injuries. A lot of officers suffer not just from PTSD but also survivors’ guilt.
It's standard protocol for officers to be placed on administrative leave for 48 hours after a critical incident. Others include mandatory debriefings after traumatic events, joining support groups and seeking counseling sessions help officers talk about critical situations and process their experience.
A recent CBS Chicago report shows that officers still face a lot of barriers to getting proper and timely mental health treatment. Illinois has passed a state law to remove obstacles and lower the high suicide rate among officers.
Yet, officers are finding it hard to seek mental health treatment. When officers are admitted to a mental health facility, their health professionals have to report the same to the state.
The individual firearm owner’s ID (FOID) licenses are cross-referenced with mental health reports, and the former are automatically revoked. The idea is to remove guns from the hands of people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The recent Illinois state law, however, changes all these. Departments can no longer fire officers who have had their FOID cards revoked. Hopefully, this will remove all barriers to comprehensive treatment.
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