As I write this article the number of completed suicides for law enforcement in 2019 is approaching 120 officers. Along with this number I also see stories and articles with quotes from well-meaning chiefs, sheriffs and other executive level administrators who say all they (the officer) must do is reach out, ask for help, it’s not a weakness, there is no shame.
Quote after quote of important people saying that while they recognize there is a stigma regarding acknowledging you needs mental health care and then taking the extraordinary step of asking for it, they will be provided help without fear of it affecting their jobs. They say that won’t happen in our department. They say we have resources and will get you help. It’s those other chiefs in some other department that may turn their backs on an officer in need but not here.
I say this knowing a tale of two officers from two different cities. Two highly productive, hard-working, respected members of their department who each notified their chiefs that they needed help and we’re struggling with some mental health issues because of a critical incident or many critical incidents, it really doesn’t matter. Both officers knew they needed help, were willing to accept help, and with that went to the people they needed help from the most and the ones that should have been trustworthy.
One would think that in 2019, the year we are acknowledging the outrageous number of officers completing suicide; the year we are grasping for answers as to why this is; the year that suicides are more than double line of duty deaths both of these officers would have gotten support, encouragement, and assistance facilitating their treatment but that’s not what happened.
Whether it is by spoken word in a smaller department or a memo through a chain of command in a bigger department, these officers are giving you a split-second opportunity to do the right thing. You basically have two options. You can take care of and keep a loyal employee who knows you have their best interest in mind and potentially save a life or you can turn your backs on them, say you are doing it for their best interest and pull them from their beloved assignments!
I say that knowing that every poor decision by an administrator does not lead to suicide, but why take the chance? If you can get an officer help, you not only save a valued employee you get to be the one that says ” not on my watch” I won’t let another officer fall when I could have been the one to hold them up. I want the officers who patrol my city to be healthy. I want them to come to us when they are struggling because the cost is too high if they don’t. I want to save my department the embarrassment of those DWIs or those family disputes because officers needed help and were forced to go underground with it for fear of losing their jobs. I want to protect my community from officers who are hiding mental health out of fear to get help.
So, when you are the one that comes to this fork in the road don’t be the one that proves the stigma right. Be the leader who helps a hurting officer, be the one that gives them the list of resources, drive them if necessary but get them there. You have not only saved one officer, but there are many more just watching what you will do. Please think about what you will do before it happens because chiefs across the country are facing this daily and while it may seem like a no brainer, it is not!
That tale of two officers I spoke of, well one did go to his chief, received encouragement, and was assisted in getting help, while the other officer was put on desk duty thus proving the stigma still valid or at least valid in that city. All this in spite of the fact that he was doing the same job, doing the job in the same manner and with highly graded evaluations. The one thing different was that he told a trusted supervisor that he felt he needed help and was actively getting help. I can’t adequately describe how dumbfounded I am by this but shocked is an understatement.
Chiefs, sheriffs, executive, and command staff, PLEASE, educate yourselves. Go to training on officer mental health, speak to mental health professionals who specialize in treating first responders; contact Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute Post Critical Incident Seminar in Texas, or Blue Help. Ask basic mental health questions if you need to ensure you have no liability. Do anything but the wrong thing because the cost is too high. There are too many good people fighting against the stigma for anyone to be making bad choices.
Officers, if you do work for that kind of department, there are anonymous, confidential hotlines with mental health referrals so you can reach out and get help without your department knowing. Please do so. Your life means something to us!
The below list is a small list of resources to assist you:
- Copline- 1-800-267-5463
- Blue Help-bluehelp.org
- Warriors Rest-www.warriorsrestfoundation.org
- That Peer Support Couple-cathyandjavi.com
- Code 4 Northwest-1-425-243-5092
- 1st Responder Conferences-1-206-629-6433
- The Institute for Responder Wellness-www.InstituteForResponderWellness.com Dr. Stephanie Conn
- Cyndi Doyle-https://code4couples.com
- Tammy Boudreaux- 832-971-1057
- Laura Perez Boudreaux-832-527-2806
- LEMIT P.C.I. S-lemitonline.og- Post Critical Incident Seminar
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: cathyandja[email protected], their website: www.cathyandjavi.com Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.
(Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Spellman)