I read an article a couple months ago that continues to haunt me. The article is by David Lohr and titled, "For Third Straight Year, Police Suicides Outnumber Line-of-duty Deaths.” For a woman who wants to support those who dedicate their careers to serving and protecting (not to mention the sister-in-law of two officers with prior military service), this statistic hits very close to home.
In my practice, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few individuals and couples who are first responders and/or military. I am aware that for this community, walking into a therapy office is not easy. For some, there is a fear around how a diagnosis or therapy might impact their job. Sometimes, there is a fear that therapy can't help. There is also a fear that I am not equipped to hear about their world. Makes sense for someone who dedicates their time to protecting citizens, right?
These are all valid concerns, but I firmly believe that the stigma around mental health treatment is contributing to the suicide statistic above.
Recently, I asked one of my favorite clients, who has served 6 years in the military and five years in law enforcement, “Why were you willing to come in to therapy?” Below is his unedited response, which he has graciously given me permission to publish.
“I was willing to come in because I want to win. When I started in my career, a training officer told me his motivation in training was, ‘if someone is going to beat me in a fight, they will have to earn it.’
“I don't think that applies only to physical training and skill. I have to be, not only physically sound and prepared, but I have to be mentally sound and prepared -- for both the job and life. A relationship requires the same, if not more effort than I put into my job. I need to learn how to handle, cope, communicate, etc. with my partner to make sure we are successful.
“Not to mention there is life after the job. If I can be successful at home and have a sound mind about my home situation, that means when I'm at work, I can focus on work. I can be in the right mindset, making me safer, smarter, more effective, more confident and, for lack of a better term, more deadly. If I am struggling with home life, it takes away from all those things at work, which could mean that I, or someone else may not come home. I'm not okay with that. I refuse to accept that. I want to win.”
This made me emotional, because it really portrays how relationships affect officer safety. It’s not just about having a more harmonious relationship -- it’s about our Protectors being safe on the job so that they come home to their families.
Obviously relationships are only one part of the puzzle. As cited in a study by the University of Buffalo, Impact of Stress On Police Officers’ Physical and Mental Health, officers are at higher risk for high blood pressure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, increased levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, and suicide. My hope is that all of these areas will eventually be addressed by communities and systems.
This is part one of a three-part series. Our hope is that you will share this information with others. Come back tomorrow for part two, where “We Can Talk about Dark and Twisty!”