As a profession, have we suffered enough to realize that we need to take better care of ourselves and our coworkers? When I was first introduced to this concept by Kelsy Timas (Guiding Wellness Institute), I immediately thought of outside entities, such as the media, politicians, disgruntled citizens, etc. as the source of our suffering. Recently, I have come to realize that those entities do impact our level of suffering, but the primary cause of our suffering is often self-inflicted. If you think about the officers who have taken their own life, how many of them had relationship, work, substance abuse, and/or financial problems that were self-imposed?
Disclaimer: The “profession” can affect our decision-making process, but ultimately, WE are responsible for the decisions WE make!
Personally, I am guilty of self-imposed suffering relating to work and my relationship with my wife. In each situation, I made poor and/or selfish decisions that almost cost me my career and my marriage. I was fortunate, with the help of the Lord, my wife and friends, I was able to make it back, but I almost did not. The thought of suicide did cross my mind on several occasions. To this day, I am not sure why I did not follow through.
So, when I am critiquing the profession, I am critiquing myself. We need to do a better job of “policing” ourselves and our behavior! If we can avoid the poor and/or selfish decisions, we can lessen the number of officers who commit suicide. How do we do this?
Recommendations to Leaders:
- Hire low risk employees – Taking time on the front end, will save the department a lot of time and money on the back end.
- Provide officers with the training and resources to handle predictable scenarios – Classes on maintaining healthy relationships, substance abuse, finance management, organizational stress and suicide awareness.
- The resources must be trustworthy and credible. Officers are expert BS detectors.
- Mandate that officers get a yearly physical and mental health check. At the very least, the officers will know that you are concerned about their wellbeing.
- Mandate that officers maintain some standard of physical fitness.
- Communicate with your officers. Often times, the unknown is a major cause of stress. The officers will not always agree with the decision that was made, but at least they know “why” it was made.
- Support officers who are involved in critical incidents. Often times, officers are indiscriminately placed on administrative duty and forgot about. Many officers have told me that how they were treated by the department after the incident was much more stressful than the incident itself.
- Set a good example.
- Attend debriefings and let the officers know how the critical incident affected you.
- Work at being physically, mentally and spiritually fit.
Recommendations to Officers on Officers:
- Look for anomalies. If you notice a co-worker acting different than normal, inquire about the change in behavior. A small percentage of officers will tell you to mind your own business, while the vast majority will appreciate your concern.
- If you still have concerns after your inquiry, notify a supervisor.
- If you know an officer is going through a difficult time, check on him/her frequently to see how they are doing. You may be the only person who checks on them.
- After a critical incident, officers need to be checked on throughout the process, e.g. administrative duty. After the initial flurry of activity that typically surrounds a critical incident, the officer is often unintentionally forgotten and may have feelings of abandonment, especially if they are homebound.
Recommendations to Officers:
- Take care of yourself physically.
- Exercise (Functional Fitness)
- Eat a well-balanced, low fast-food diet
- Bring your lunch to work. Healthier and less expensive.
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Try to get at least 8-hours of sleep per day
- Do not self-medicate
- Energy drinks
- Sleep aids
- Prescription Medication
- Get a yearly medical exam.
- Take care of yourself mentally.
- Develop a routine to de-stress after work
- Limit the amount of overtime work
- Communicate with family and friends. Let them know that you may need to vent occasionally.
- Participate in “mindfulness” activities, such as yoga and/or meditation.
- If you have concerns about your mental health, talk to someone.
- Take care of yourself spiritually
- What is your “why?” Why did you want to become a police officer? Is that “why” still applicable? It is normal for your “why” to change as your career progresses.
- What is your “passion?” What are you passionate about?
- Support your family and friends. Being close to a police officer can be very challenging.
- Have hobbies and/or friends outside your work circle.
**Wellness is a process, a journey, not a destination. Every day we make decisions to become “more well” or “less well.” Wellness seeks more than the absence of illness; it searches for new levels of excellence, whether it be mentally, physically, or spiritually.” (World Health Organization)
Recommendations to Family Members
- Remain flexible concerning their work schedule. The officers will inevitably have to work nights, weekends and holidays. Typically, it is not their decision to work the odd or inconvenient shift.
- Look for anomalies. If your officer is acting differently, inquire about the change of behavior. The officer may not be aware of the behavior change.
- Change in alcohol consumption?
- Change in medication use?
- Anger management issues?
- Do not let your officer isolate himself/herself for large amounts of time. Everyone needs their alone time, but excess time is unhealthy. Make a concerted effort to set a side “family time.”
- Monitor their overtime. If they seem to be over extending themselves, say something.
If we do a better job of taking care of ourselves and our officers, we will lessen the suffering and ultimately lessen the number of officers who take their own lives. Additional benefit: Taking care of ourselves and our officers will positively impact how we treat the citizens that we are sworn to protect, which will ultimately lessen the suffering caused by outside entities.
Please utilize the listed resources, if you or someone else is in need of help!
Suicide Prevention Resources (PoliceOne.com)
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline
The lifeline provides 24/7 confidential support for those in distress or in need of help for their loved ones.
CONTACT: Call 800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Crisis Text Line
A text will connect you with a trained crisis counselor, 24/7.
CONTACT: https://www.crisistextline.org/ or text BADGE to 741741
Survive First: We are a resource for first responders and their families to speak confidentially with former law enforcement officers, fire fighters, first responder professionals, and/or mental health care providers who are familiar with your line of work. All communications are confidential, with comprehensive assistance and planning for mental health support for first responders and their families, as well as all emergency services personnel and their families.
1st Help matches first responders with appropriate services based on a brief questionnaire, which determines what specific assistance you need (emotional, financial, religious, etc.).
Safe Call Now
Safe Call Now is a 24-hour crisis referral service for those in public safety and their family members.
CONTACT: https://www.safecallnow.org/ or call 206-459-3020
First Responder Support Network
FRSN provides educational treatment programs for first responders and their families.
CONTACT: http://www.frsn.org/ or call 415-721-9789
Serve & Protect
Serve & Protect helps connect public safety professionals with trauma services.
CONTACT: https://serveprotect.org/ or call 615-373-8000 for the crisis line.
Cops Alive provides resources and strategies to help cops live happy and successful lives.
CopLine is a 24/7 service that will connect you to a peer support counselor.
CONTACT: http://www.copline.org/ or call 800-267-5463
Treatment Placement Specialists
This program offers treatment guidance based on the individual needs of officers.
CONTACT: https://www.treatmentplacementspecialists.com/first-responders/ or call 877-540-3935
The Valor Officer Safety and Wellness program is a Bureau of Justice Assistance funded initiative that provides a ton of resources and online training focused on improving officer health and resilience.
The following organizations are working to raise mental health awareness and treatment options for police officers.
Blue H.E.L.P. is an organization working to reduce mental health stigma in law enforcement and raise awareness of the problem of suicide in LE.
Badge of Life
Badge of Life’s focus is educating and training agencies on mental health and suicide prevention in law enforcement.
Whether you’re in a leadership role or on the front line, these books offer a wealth of information and guidance on the issues of mental health and suicide in law enforcement.