My last article, Officer needs assistance: Are you ready to really help, focused on making us more aware of how we treat others — in essence, to make us more aware of our words and our actions.
We must first acknowledge issues in the way individuals believed to be mentally ill or suffering from a mental health issue are treated.
Second, we can argue about the mental health of officers as being a "touchy subject" or the idea that officers will not come forward for fear of being deemed “unfit.” But we must look deeper at the personal responsibilities we all have to our fellow officers. We must stop passing the buck.
We All Must Step Up
If an officer needs assistance for a mental health issue, we must decide now that we will step up.
But what does that really mean?
First and foremost, if an officer is suicidal, do not waste valuable time contemplating whether they are serious. Take every threat seriously and get them to the nearest emergency room.
Arrangements must be made with the shift commander or the sergeant on duty to secure the duty weapon. Remember: never leave the officer alone once they claim they are suicidal.
Robert Douglas, Director of the National Police Suicide Foundation, explained that officers must be discrete when assisting a fellow officer in need, but must also be careful not to strip the officer of their entire identity.
Taking Care of Our Own
If escorting an officer to the emergency room, take them through a back entrance not accessible to the general public. Do not parade them around for others to see and do not embarrass them. Taking care of your own reduces stress, builds trust, and shows officers in need that you have their best interest at heart.
Sean Riley, Executive Director of Safe Call Now, said that many situations regarding officer mental health are not as drastic as a suicidal officer and many do not require a “fit for duty” evaluation.
An officer may just be going through a difficult time and may not feel they can maneuver through the situation by themselves. Riley stated the importance of noticing changes in an officer’s behavior, attitude, achievement, or attendance. These noted changes might be signs that deeper issues are present.
Third, the idea here is to acknowledge the bigger issue and own our part of it. Once we own it, we can choose to make changes to our behavior.
Why should we own our part and why should we make such changes? Because fellow officers may need assistance and if they see how we treat others, they may choose to suffer silently.
Trust is a huge part of police work. Officers will not share or confide in officers deemed to be untrustworthy. With that being said, watch your words and your actions.
Remember that suicide should never be seen as a viable option, and be observant to changes in fellow officers. You may deal with officers who will have a mental health emergency or they may just be going through a bump in the road.
Either way, let them know you are there for them and that backup has arrived.
My next article will address issues of trust and vulnerability in police relationships.