TAUNTON, Mass. — In contribution to the #IWillListen campaign, Taunton police filmed a video, posting it publicly on Monday, to help smash the stigma surrounding people in law enforcement seeking mental health services.
“I think one of the greatest challenges that we in policing face is officer wellness,” Taunton police Chief Edward Walsh told Boston.com. “Unfortunately officer suicide is way too common in our profession. It has happened in my department and it was devastating.”
The campaign, led by Blue H.E.L.P., an organization hoping to reduce mental health stigma by bringing awareness to suicide, calls on officers around the country to make a commitment to listening to each other.
“Our challenge is to find ways to prevent officer suicide, and one of the ways is by earlier interception models that deal with stress and traumatic events that officers go through, both on and off the job,” Walsh said.
The minute-long video opens with a stat, detailing that in 2019 alone, there were 228 documented police suicides nationwide, according to Blue H.E.L.P. ‘s reports.
“One of the biggest questions is, how do we treat officer suicide?” Walsh asked. “When an officer dies in a car accident or from a felonious assault, there is a sea of blue there for the department and the family … When an officer takes their own life, usually as a result of work-related trauma, it is not usually considered work-related and how it is handled is different.”
He said the campaign is helping policing executives understand the complexities and stigma surrounding the issue.
“Officers struggle with issues just like everybody else,” Walsh said. “We are taught to be strong, unemotional and suck it up. Unfortunately this does not work. Because of our culture, officers are afraid to talk about things because it shows weakness. But the reality is that we need to talk about things. We need to know that we can talk.”
He said the willingness to talk is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.
“The ‘I will listen’ campaign is trying to convey the message that it is alright to speak about things and seek help,” Walsh said.
And everyone in his Taunton department, he said, is ready to listen.
“Blue H.E.L.P. issued a challenge for departments to make a video,” he said. “I accepted the challenge because I believe that this is one of the most important issues facing us.”