The Annual Police Mental Health Check

A Study of Police Suicide in 2008-2016
Girl's Letter to School
Police Suicide - What It ISN'T
Master Police Coaches - Building a Better Cop
PTSD - The "Hidden Injury"
Police Suicide - Making a Difference
The Importance of Therapy
Police Suicide - the SOLUTIONS
Interview with the BOL Chairman
So-Called "Helpers"
2016 Police Suicide Study
Annual Mental Health Checks
Stigma - The Human Stain
2016 Police Suicides: the NSOPS Study
Police Stress vs Trauma--a difference?
Does PTSD Cause Violence? from the Badge of Life
A New Police Suicide Prevention Program for the 21st Century
Police Suicide, Just a Bad Choice?
Chiefs Lead the Way
"Bring a Buddy"
Cumulative PTSD - a Silent Killer
Dealing with a Suicidal Police Officer

Police chiefs nationwide are concerned about the number of suicides taking place.  Each year, there are 100-150 law enforcement suicides taking place, or about ten per month.  The average age for a police suicide is 42 years of age, and the average time on the job is 17 years (O’Hara, Violanti).


The underlying problem is not suicides, however—it’s mental health.  For every police suicide, there are about 1,000 police officers suffering from some symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  That’s about 15-18 percent of the almost 800,000 officers we currently have employed across the US.  Again, the problem is not the suicides themselves—it’s the underlying issue of mental health. 


For example, examine a typical iceberg.  The tip of the iceberg—the part that’s visible, represents the suicides.  These are visible for all to see.  Below the surface, however, we can see the bulk of the issue, which is the mental health problem. 


The police chief should want to address the underlying causes of police suicides for a multitude of reasons.  First of all, a healthy squad doesn’t have suicides.  Second, for those police chiefs to whom suicide prevention itself is not enough, there’s the issue of cost savings.  A healthy police squad has less sick leave, fewer complaints, fewer lawsuits, less substance abuse, fewer divorces and, not surprisingly, fewer injuries.  Why fewer injuries?  Because the police officer who is preoccupied with anxiety and depression is not thinking about his job and is a danger to himself and the officers around him who are depending on him to be his sharpest.


The smart police chief will look at the cost savings and the suicide prevention benefits and can lead the way in attacking the lower part of this iceberg.  He can do this by serving as a role model for his managers, first line supervisors and officers by seeking out a therapist of his own choice and going in for what we call an annual mental health check.  He then returns and encourages his staff and his officers to do the same.


So what is an annual mental health check?  Developed in 2006, it’s a process of resiliency building, done in the same spirit that one goes in for an annual physical exam or a dental check up.  It’s voluntary and a choice—no one needs to do it, in the same way you don’t have to go in for a dental check.  In fact, you don’t even have to brush your teeth—you can just let them rot and gum your food for the rest of your life.  The same applies to an annual physical exam—you don’t have to go.  If there’s a large black mole on your leg, you can see the doctor or ignore it—and die.  The key is that it’s voluntary.


The purpose of the annual proactive mental health check is to look over the past year, see what has been working well, see what can be enhanced, and identify what has not been working so well.  It’s as simple as that.  There doesn’t need to be a “problem” to go in for an annual check.  It can be accomplished in one visit, or it may take more—this is up to the individual. 


There are three main rules to the annual mental health check.  First, it must be voluntary.  Departments have tried mandating them, and it doesn’t work.  Second, it must be confidential—completely.  Third, officers can pick a therapist of their choice, either through a departmental psychologist, the EAP, or completely on the outside.  For those officers that are concerned that the EAP or departmental psychologist is a “conduit” to the police chief, they should see a therapist on the outside and pay either an insurance co-pay or the cost of the visit.


As we go into the 21st century, we need new answers to old problems—in this case, the mental health of those working in one of the most toxic, caustic jobs in the world.  The concept of an annual mental health check is one of those answers.

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