It is very common for police officers to encounter people suffering from mental health problems or in crisis. We respond to calls involving suicidal individuals or, worse yet, someone who has died as a result of that illness.
These scenes we walk into can be tremendously painful, as we meet families in heartbreaking situations trying to figure out what to do to help their loved ones. Their responses may range from quiet frustration or utter confusion to anger; this issue has no easy fix.
The first person they often meet when their spouse, child or parent is ill is a well-intentioned cop coming to help. That officer or officers will likely have a very limited background in identifying mental health problems and symptoms. Regardless, they will try to at least temporarily manage the situation and get the person in need immediate help – or at least point them in the right direction.
Many police officers leave these agonizing circumstances pretty certain that they will return – hopefully not to an even more severe situation.
It is not always easy for our men and women in blue to compartmentalize all the hurt they encounter without it having an effect on their own psyches. Combine that with seeing firsthand the carnage left by predators on victims, the exhaustion that results from working rotating shifts in which their circadian rhythms get out of whack, exposure to death (from homicides, crashes and violence) to raw fear from dangerous calls, and it is hardly surprising that many officers throughout our nation struggle with their own mental health challenges.
This is why officer wellness initiatives are so vital.
Luckily, in northeast Ohio, we now have a wealth of resources to work with. Retired Cleveland Police Department Detective Cliff Kime and Captain Jim Purcell (who passed away in January after a brave battle with cancer) created a program called “Six.” They called the program “Six” because the term is a reference to having someone’s back.
Their program has now spread to more than 15 suburban departments, where officers can reach out to their mentoring teams in times of crisis. ”Six” is now working in tandem with counselors who have an understanding of first responders. The teams mentor police officers facing marital struggles, addictions and PTSD as a result of their jobs.
While we know that members of the military can receive mental health support for the rest of their lives, it’s just not there yet for law enforcement or other safety forces. On the streets of America, a police officer will witness an incredible amount of violence over a 25-plus year career but receive limited mental health resources.
It is time to change that and, thankfully, the State of Ohio has recognized it by forming a committee to oversee this concern. We are hopeful that this will bring change to support our mental wellness.
It’s tragic to know that the Blue H.E.L.P. study showed that in 2019, line-of-duty deaths of police officers were more than doubled by suicide.
The strain of mental illness affects ALL facets of our society. Fortunately, we have had people like Kime and Purcell who compassionately work to help the “servers” after they have helped the “served” who were in a mental health crisis or in need of psychiatric assistance.
We are better because of organizations such as “Six,” whose members are like backup officers in disguise.