Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to protect their communities. While law enforcement is comprised of some of the strongest, bravest men and women in the world, these officers are not immune to mental health problems, addiction, or even suicide.
In fact, some statistics indicate that the stressful work environment and traumatic circumstances officers find themselves in can increase the likelihood for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. This can even lead to thoughts of suicide. The support system for law enforcement extends beyond their own circle of family, friends, and coworkers; members of society can contribute support in their own ways.
1. Recognize the warning signs. Those closest to law enforcement individuals are often able to identify warning signs of mental health issues lurking under the surface. In Public Safety outlines several potential warning signs to look for including:
● Talk of suicide or death
● Verbalizing negative self-talk
● Isolation from friends and family
● Sudden dramatic improvement in mood after a period of depression or being withdrawn
● Extreme mood changes, such as aggression and hostility or passivity and hopelessness
● Reckless behavior or inappropriate use of weapons
● Asking another officer to hold their weapon
● Recent issues with alcohol or drugs
Family and friends may feel helpless when they’re concerned about the well-being of a law enforcement officer, but there are ways to help. Preventing a downward spiral into alcoholism or extreme irreversible actions (such as attempted suicide) begins with providing support, not only when warning signs are noticed, but before.
2. Encourage the “annual mental health check.” Developed in 2006, the annual mental health check is a program encouraging officers to visit a licensed therapist once per year as a preventative measure. It was created as a response to alarming statistics about suicide among law enforcement professionals. Encourage the law heroes in your life to participate in this voluntary program to preserve their mental health.
3. Volunteer for a peer-to-peer helpline. Retired law officers can continue to give back to the community and support their fellow law enforcement professionals by volunteering for a peer-to-peer helpline such as Copline. This is a national hotline providing a safe and confidential support system for police officers.
Manned by trained, retired officers, Copline provides a valuable service by providing current officers with direct support from peers who understand the stressors of the profession.
4. Support organizations such as the National Police Wives Association. Law enforcement professionals are not the only ones who experience stress as a result of their field. Their spouses are also affected by the stress and pressure. Organizations like the NPWA not only offer support for wives of law officers, but also provide a safe haven where they can learn about resources that help with their spouse’s mental health. CopsAlive.com, additionally, identifies many organizations that provide support to police officers and their family, friends, and coworkers.
5. Make a donation to an organization that supports law enforcement. Even if you’re not married to a law enforcement officer or even know one personally, you can help to support these heroes by giving to organizations that promote their mental well-being. These organizations can offer confidential support and interventions to law professionals experiencing mental health challenges.
By donating to a 501(c)(3) organization like Support Police, you’ll contribute to the purchase of life-saving equipment, important ongoing education and training for law enforcement, and financial assistance programs for families of officers who have lost their lives. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is another organization that brings communities together to demonstrate their support of the law enforcement heroes.
Whether you’re a retired or current law enforcement officer, a spouse of one, friend, or a member of the community at large, there are ways for everyone to offer support for those who put their lives on the line for their communities every day.
(Image via Pixabay by AliciaZinn)