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.
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.