“Step it up!”
There isn’t a law enforcement officer who doesn’t know what that means. When you hear another LEO transmit for units to step it up the situation has escalated and additional aid is needed. When backup arrives on scene there’s always a sense of relief for all involved. You’re hopefully safe and there are others who can help you take care of business. You’re physically okay. But what about your mental health? When you are in a mental health crisis and you need immediate help who are you going to call to step it up?
We see peer support as the foundation for providing aid to first responders. Peer Support officers are specially trained and certified through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. Darby Penney, senior research associate at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc., wrote about peer support in an article titled “Who Gets to Define “Peer Support?” for MadinAmerica.com. Penney provided a basic definition of peer support as, “A ‘peer’ is an equal, someone with whom one shares demographic or social similarities. ‘Support’ expresses the kind of deeply felt empathy, encouragement, and assistance that people with shared experiences can offer one another within reciprocal relationships.”
When you talk to a peer you know they understand you because they are fellow first responders who have been where you are. It’s a no judgement conversation that is deemed confidential in most states in the nation. In our time as peers we have observed first responders really just need to talk. A good peer session helps to alleviate stress. At times one peer session or multiple sessions provide all the help a first responder may need to help return them to a better state of mind.
Chaplain services are beneficial for first responders who also use their faith to help guide them. Most peer support units incorporate chaplains as part of a team. There’s confidentiality just like speaking to a peer.
Licensed Counselors and Psychologists
Peers and chaplains are trained to recognize when a first responder needs the help of a licensed counselor or psychologist. In a previous article for Law Officer we stressed the importance of departments ensuring the professional help they are sending their first responders to are specialized in working with them. If you choose to seek help outside of your department, do your homework and check their credentials. It’s your mental health at stake. Confidentiality factor is high with these professionals.
We want to point out an important point about confidentiality. While these services are bound to respect your privacy please understand if they are alerted about someone wanting to cause harm to themselves, others or reporting felonious acts there is the responsibility to report it to the proper authorities.
There are many first responders who do not want to use any program provided by their departments. There is still a stigma of asking for help. We hope that will end one day. Until then there are plenty of confidential crisis hotlines you can call or text to for immediate help. We stress for all of you to do your homework again. While there are many hotlines out there stick to the ones who specialize with the first responder community.
Here are some resources available to use:
- International Critical Incident Stress Foundation – www.icisf.org
- Cyndi Doyle, LPCS, NCC, CDWF, CCISM – www.code4couples.com
- Stephanie Conn, Ph.D – www.firstresponderpsychology.com
- Copline (Law Enforcement) www.copline.org 1.800.267.5463
- Crisis Text Line www.crisistextline.org or text 741741
- ICISF hotline (CISM team locator) 410.313.2473
- Blue H.E.L.P – www.wearebluehelp.org
- 1st Responder Conferences – www.1stresponderconferences.org
- Code 4 Northwest www.code4nw.org 425.243.5092
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
- Veterans Crisis Line 1.800.273.8255
- Institute For Responder Wellness – www.instituteforresponderwellness.com
Never forget your mental health is important for your career survival and leading a healthy life. So when you need help don’t be afraid to step it up and get the help you deserve.
Be safe and it’s all about Living, Loving and Caring.
Cathy and Javier Bustos are law enforcement officers in Central Texas. As “That Peer Support Couple, LLC” they are strong peer support advocates speaking about surviving critical incidents and marriage. They can be reached by email: [email protected], their website: www.cathyandjavi.com Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.
(Feature image courtesy John Liu via Flickr)