A New Police Suicide Prevention Program from Badge of Life

A Study of Police Suicide in 2008-2016
Dealing with a Suicidal Police Officer
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"
A MATTER OF PUBLIC TRUST
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"


Photo by MindOnFire

A New Police Suicide Prevention Program for the 21st Century

THE ANNUAL MENTAL HEALTH CHECK

For too long, we have reinvented and repackaged the same traditional "suicide prevention," peer support and intervention programs in an effort to prevent suicides and get assistance for those officers who "need help."  The are noble efforts but, whatever we call them and whatever new slogans we use, they are ineffectual. . 

 

It's time to stop saying, "Get help when you need it."  We need to say, "Get the help BEFORE you need it!"

The Annual Mental Health Check (MHC) program is more than just "police suicide prevention."  It's a totally new approach that “walks us into the 21st century” of mental health for police officers everywhere.

 

The thing we have to get into our heads, once and for all, is that it's not "JUST" ABOUT SUICIDE. For every police officer who commits suicide, there are a thousand more officers out there still working and suffering from the symptoms of PTSD.

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How the Real Numbers Work

 


Looking at the REAL problem

Tragic as they are, police suicides account for only a tiny portion of our police force--100 - 150 officers each year out of almost 800,000. You run those figures by a typical police chief and he's going to react with, "Why even have a suicide prevention program?" That's a good question. For a small or medium size department, it makes the odds of having a suicide in any given year remote.

 

But consider this--that for every police suicide, there are a thousand police officers out there, still working and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. In addition to those, for every police suicide there are another thousand police officers who don't have PTSD but are struggling with other problems brought on by the job--anxiety, depression, alcoholism, marital problems, and more.

 

To a police chief, these numbers should now have meaning. By the most conservative studies out there, we are now talking a total of 216,000 officers either suffering from PTSD or some other form of emotional stress that is significant enough to alter and disrupt their lives.

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By focusing on creating healthier officers (before they get into "trouble"), we not only prevent suicides, but we also reduce

 

Officer deaths from shootings and accidents

lawsuits

complaints

sick leave

alcoholism

Substance abuse

Criminal/other behaviors

On and off-job injuries

divorces

grievances

resignations

morale problems

and much more.

 

These are dollar savings to a department which will pay for an efficiently run mental health program. These savings are not accomplished by focusing on "suicide signs and symptoms" and training officers to "watch their buddies." Experience shows this doesn't work. They need to be watching themselves!

 

And how do they do this? Through one important element of our program that we call, "The Mental Health Check."

 
What is the annual mental health check?
Developed in 2006, this is an annual process in which we suggest an officer visit a licensed therapist once a year for at least one visit as a “checkup,” in the same way one visits a doctor for an annual physical or a dentist for a cleaning and check for cavities and other problems.
Voluntary, confidential: The most critical component of the mental health check program is that it be voluntary and that confidentiality be guaranteed, even if it involves seeing a caregiver known only to the officer.  Any department that tries to "mandate" such a program will fail, we guarantee.
This is where it happens—emotional health is not a classroom exercise. 
Sound uncomfortable? Relax, and just think about it. Your career is one of the most toxic, dangerous, violent and traumatic in the world. You deal with “unhealth” on the streets every day and night, then go home and try to lead a healthy home life. You are dealing with stress, yes—but more importantly, you are dealing with TRAUMA on a continuum. While each traumatic incident may not disable you or give you PTSD, you are dealing with it nonetheless, year after year, decade after decade.
Does it wear at you? Yes. Is there a reason they believe police retiree suicides are higher than active officers? Yes. This is how you can keep it from happening to you.  
The idea behind the annual mental health check is not that “something is wrong.” Something may or may not be bothering you, but the emphasis is on doing it, regardless. The goal is to accomplish a number of things:
1.    Bring up issues that are currently bothering you. How are things going?
2.     Explore the past year in general and look for areas of concern or in which you might wish to make changes.
 
3.     Examine your coping and resiliency skills during stressful and traumatic events. What are your coping mechanisms? Are they healthy? How might you improve on them? 
 
4.  How are things at home?
5.     Set goals for the next year.
6.   Have a talking relationship with a therapist already--when you need them! 
 
HERE'S THE DEAL:
This is voluntary.  You don't have to go!  You don't have to see the dentist, either--ever.  You can let your teeth rot and "gum it" the rest of your life. 

But bear in mind, also, that a clear and healthy mind, over the rest of your career, can save your life on the streets.  What you don't take care of today may lodge in your subconscious and make the difference of a few seconds five years from now.  It happens. 
It may also mix with the screams from last month and the spitter from next Labor Day and the dead kid at the lake two years ago and the wreck you were off duty and leave you wondering why you're arguing with your spouse more, lately.
An annual mental health check is not an elaborate process. What you make of it is entirely up to you. You may wish to start with your local employee assistance program and then move on to a private therapist or you may wish to begin with a private therapist.
Why would I go to a private therapist? Some officers prefer a private therapist because they are concerned about confidentiality. Bluntly, they don't trust their department's program, no matter what they are told.  This is fine--the goal is to get you doing what you need to do, regardless of where you go. 
Client-patient confidentiality covers most things, barring a threat to self or others, or elder abuse or child abuse.   
Wouldn’t I have to pay for a private therapist? Probably, and more than likely it would be a co-pay. Perhaps you already pay something for they gym or workout program you're in. If it’s a choice of going or not going, we recommend you do so. The salary of most police officers can handle the co-pay and the mental health return beats the alternatives.
As with a physical or dental exam, you may find two or more visits desirable. Again, these are confidential visits, and the goal is emotional survival. Like our physical conditioning, our health and our teeth, if we ignore our emotional well being and strengths in facing up to the toxic environment in which we work, we will suffer the consequences. 
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Bill Lewinski, PhD., the Force Science Research Center: The police-run website, http://www.badgeoflife.com/, devoted to psychological survival for officers, recommends that cops “visit a mental health professional once a year, with the same diligence they get their teeth cleaned or go for an annual physical examination.” Committing to the ritual of a yearly psych check “forces you to focus on what’s going on in your life, to take stock of yourself and how you’re doing,” Lewinski explains. “Without that obligation, when do we take time to evaluate our mental health and our relationships?”

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How do I select a therapist?  First, don't sit around waiting until you can find a "cop doc." We see too many officers delaying treatment because they can't find a therapist who "knows about police work." More important than having someone telling they already know what it's like because they're a cop is having a therapist/psychologist who is well trained in handling stress, trauma and PTSD. 
Make sure the therapist is a "good fit" for you.  Listening, interactive skills and expertise are the most important considerations. Anne Bisek's "How to Select a Therapist" contains excellent criteria to consider in picking a good therapist, qualifications, confidentiality, etc.

 

 

A WORD TO DEPARTMENTS:


This is a total shift from the traditional focus used in past years.  Therapy, for example, has been something to turn to only when the officer “needs help."  Now, we turn it into a preventive, rather than a reactive tool, much like range practice and other training, designed to keep an officer from harm more than getting him out of it when it's too late.


We believe our programs have to be more than waiting until a "crisis" or suicide arrives.  They must be about long-term mental health for all officers--true prevention. This includes encouraging officers to seek out and visit a therapist of their choice--through the EAP or privately.  It has to be totally confidential, and the department must do no tracking and require no reporting on whether an officer goes or not.  If an officer doesn’t “trust” anything connected with the department, we encourage them to seek out their own and pay the co-pay. 

 

The key is in how serious a department is about wanting a healthy force.  It's how much you truly feel the emotional health of your department matters.  Can you go the next five years without a suicide on a small or mediums sized department?  More than likely, yes.  But can you make a difference in the number of complaints, lawsuits, reckless actions and injuries, disgruntled employees and grievances, alcoholism and divorces, vehicle accidents by distracted officers and much more?


Some departments have tried "mandating" mental health checks, calling them "re-screenings" or even "fitness for duty exams."  This is an unfortunate error.  Too many officers, fearing the outcome of such a process, will simply say "what is expected" of them ("Everything is fine, doc").  Their hesitation, however unfounded, is that a revelation regarding temper, substance abuse or even minor misconduct will be reported and result in disciplinary or administrative action.

See a typical course outline at ESC TRAINING, and contact us with your questions! 

 

We customize the program to the needs of your department--our training is free and we adapt it the way YOU want to best use it.  That's what it's all about.  Call us for the details on how to participate.  It's free, it's easy.


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