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For many potential law enforcement officers, public safety and being involved in community oriented policing services is a lifelong dream. Becoming a police officer can also be considered a family tradition in which multiple generations in one family make the commitment to protect and serve.
The Decision to Serve
The decision to serve your community as a peace officer is not one that is taken lightly. The risks are many, but the rewards go beyond words. When you grow up in a family where law enforcement is highly respected, you may naturally gravitate towards that line of work. Starting out as a patrol officer can open the door to many other opportunities.
Police work takes many forms aside from just patrolling a beat. Vice, investigations, forensics, and negotiations, are all career options in many police departments and law enforcement agencies. For a police officer, the risks are ever-present. Every police agency works diligently to provide mental health services for its officers. Officer wellness and officer safety are two of the highest concerns they must deal with. Mental health issues and officer suicide are often topics of discussion.
Know the Risks
While it is one of the noblest of all professions, it is also one of the hardest when it comes to stress, traumatic events, and critical thinking. Having to make life-altering decisions in a split second can be a daily occurrence. One critical incident can lay the foundation for doubt and uncertainty. Law enforcement suicide numbers are high. Even though an advisory committee has put in place wellness programs designed to help with suicide prevention.
Law enforcement is not for everyone. Visit a cop’s office on a bad day and you will see a wide range of emotions. While they may put on a brave face while they are in public, each officer must deal with his own demons on a personal level. It’s a journey that is theirs and theirs alone. We learn too late that many have turned to substance abuse as a way of self-medicating to deal with stress. While wellness resources are available, they go unused by many.
The Thin Blue Line
Walking the thin blue line is like walking on the blade of a razor. Every move is highly scrutinized. The slightest misstep can become the target of someone’s agenda, while the same officer’s heroic actions will go unnoticed. The thin blue line that binds officers together also sets the path that each officer walks. While not every cop is bad, the actions of one are transferred to all of the others. The bond that connects officers may be unseen, but it is there and it is binding in every possible way you can imagine.
Share Your Stories
Many officers find it healing to share their stories with others, whether they are fellow LEOs or family members. Simply talking about the stresses of the job can soothe a weary mind. Many retired police officers choose to visit training programs in an attempt to help future officers find ways to cope with the many issues they face on the job. These same officers who have years of experience are often called upon to join a local crisis intervention team.
Experience speaks volumes and an officer who is having mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts may be more likely to take the advice of a former officer who truly understands what they are going through. Officer wellness takes many forms and finding comfort by talking to one of their own is often the key.
Stand Tall and Together
Much like military personnel, police officers go through rigorous training to help them conceal their emotions. Being able to remain emotionless during a traumatic event if they want to reach a successful conclusion. Their neutrality is central to public safety during dangerous situations. While this is an essential skill in law enforcement agencies, it has a deadly side effect.
The problem with learning how to maintain focus is that officers may maintain that focus so well that they show no emotions when it comes to their own well-being. They may be able to fake resiliency to the point that they exhibit no signs of depression or post traumatic stress disorder. Unless they tell someone how they are feeling, they will not get the mental health care they need.
Explore Mental Health Services
As a police officer, you make a commitment to protect and serve the community at large. During the time when you are performing your duties, you will see things that rock you to your core. They may even make you question your own sanity at times. It’s during those times when you have to step back and remember your own importance and the need for self-care. You can’t efficiently serve others if you are not 100% both mentally and physically.
You and you alone know your breaking point. There are many wellness programs that you have access to as an officer of the law. Depression is a recognized mental illness that affects thousands of officers each year. A crisis intervention team member can provide you with the name of a mental health professional who will work with you to get yourself back on track.
Don’t Be a Victim, Be a Survivor
Suicide prevention is the goal of every national consortium that gathers together to help resolve mental health issues within local law enforcement agencies. Many officers go through mental health crises. Witnessing the aftermath of a horrendous crime or devastating accident can be traumatizing, especially if small children or the elderly are involved.
It can be difficult to deal with those situations alone. It is up to you to choose to be a survivor. Process the pain associated with the things you have seen and then turn to those who love and care for you. Making the choice to be a survivor doesn’t just help you. It also helps those around you provide the support you need during the most difficult times associated with your work.
Rely on Your Blue Family
Your friends and family may not truly understand the depths of your pain and depression, but many of your fellow officers do. While your family can help you get through many of life’s challenges, they can only listen when you need to purge your thoughts. This is where the support of your sisters and brothers in blue can be of help.
Many have witnessed the same type of traumatic events and can share their own stories and how they overcame the aftermath. Officer suicide numbers are much lower in a police agency where officers come together to support one another.
As a law enforcement officer, every day brings new challenges. Some days may be filled with rewards and the knowledge that you have made a positive impact in someone’s life. Other days are not so pleasant as you watch someone taking a path that will only have disastrous consequences. Neither of those events defines you, but they do guide you.
Take the time every day to practice self-care. Learn to meditate. Work out at the gym. Hug your children. Go on a spontaneous adventure with your spouse. Talk to someone you trust. No matter how you practice self-care, remember that you are here for a reason and it is up to you to take the necessary steps to maintain your mental health.
When you begin to experience doubts or start to second-guess your actions, take control of the situation. Don’t wait to spiral out of control. Talk to someone. You know your triggers. When you start to feel overwhelmed, go to your mental health professional and get the help you need! You have wellness resources at your disposal. Use them and encourage your family to use them as well.
It is estimated that law enforcement officers will experience up to 200 traumatic or critical incidents throughout their career. Police work can be challenging as well as rewarding. Resiliency is the key to overcoming adversity. It is the key to understanding how to cope with tragedies just as you would with successful outcomes. Tragedies are never easy to deal with but they offer you an opportunity to learn about yourself and your ability to recover and heal.