In our previous article, “Mental Health Matters,” we talked about how important it is to help a first responder who reaches out. We didn’t really cover what you can do to accomplish that mission. As I worked on this article, I was inspired by a segment on The Today Show in which they featured Blue Help and Chief of Police Colonel Edwin Roessler who openly talked about his struggles with the stigma of mental health. Cheers to him! It is exactly this type of honesty that it will take to end this stigma. As we discussed in the previous article, sadly there are still police administrators who will say please reach out but then do all the wrong things when an officer finally asks for help. We came up with a top ten list of things an administrator can do when told by an officer that they need assistance.
- Show concern for that officer and their family. Understand how difficult it was for them to come forward seeking help.
- Attend training on first responder mental health issues. Mandate your executive and command staff to attend training. We know you are busy but really, is there anything else more important?
- Start a wellness program in your department. From top to bottom our health stinks and we must do better. I’m not talking about weight or appearance, although those are important, I’m talking about increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Wellness programs must include both physical and mental health initiatives.
- Seek out expertise in these fields. There are several doctors, wellness programs, and initiatives that are very happy to provide guidance.
- Look around at the trendsetters, the chiefs, like Colonel Roessler who have implemented the programs. A side note, my own boss, Chief Sean Mannix of the Cedar Park Police Department, started a great wellness program and became a Destination Zero Honoree as a result of it. It made a remarkable difference in our overall health.
- Look at programs that will help you initiate wellness within your department: Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas; Blue Help; Dr. Stephanie Conn with First Responder Psychology; 1st Responder Conferences; Post Critical Incident Seminars; Cyndi Doyle from Code4Couples; Copline; The Institute for Responder Wellness; Code4 Northwest; Warriors Rest; Dr. Jonathan Sheinberg, author of Heart Disease and law enforcement; Destination Zero; Texas Municipal Police Association; The Fraternal Order of Police; That Peer Support Couple; Oklahoma Emergency Responders Assistance Program; The Center for Public Safety Innovation; and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
- Start educating your employees on health and wellness, along with the hidden hazards of our career. From cradle to grave it is important that they know what is facing them. Bring in speakers that can tell their stories. Not just any story but those of struggle, success and resiliency.
- Don’t lose sight of your own physical and mental health. Hurt people… hurt people. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
- Start a Chaplains Program and Peer Support Program. They are both valuable assets for your agency.
- You must care about your employees and understand what a valuable resource they are. This isn’t a show to check off the boxes. Faking your way through this is a great disservice to our profession and those that dedicate their lives to it.
I hope you will take these suggestions in the way we wrote them. We must do better, and no one is immune.
Cathy Bustos is a retired police lieutenant from Central Texas. As one half of “That Peer Support Couple, LLC” she is a strong peer support advocate speaking about surviving critical incidents and marriage. She can be reached by email: [email protected], their website: www.cathyandjavi.com Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.
(Feature image: Alicia Zinn)