By Steve Bringe
Founder, Stand Up To Stigma
A very sad and troubling article came across my feed concerning police officer suicides in New York City.
I’d enjoy sharing an insight on the great need for safe, protected mental health services in the law enforcement community. Trust me. This is good stuff. It’s useful information gleaned from a firsthand perspective.
When I was developing CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) for the Albuquerque Police Department, part of what was created was internal mental health services for the officers AND their families. This is an excellent service tbat carries an amount of unrecognized cultural complexity.
Having given numerous CIT presentations for APD and having been tasked with recruiting peer presenters, I’ve had the unique opportunity to speak openly with police officers on the crucial conversation of mental health in a safe, honest, and vulnerable setting. And, having been invited to participate in the full 40 hours of CIT training, I’ve gained direct empathetic understanding of the police perspective in crisis situations. This is because APD officers shared their law enforcement stories with me and our peer presenters.
The issue – as I see it – is there’s a self-stigmatizing critique in the law enforcement culture that to seek mental health services is a weakness and shameful. By making the services internal to APD the hope is more officers will get immediate help with the support of their colleagues.
As a peer who has bipolar and severe PTSD, as well as a history of trying to kill myself, if I didn’t have the excellent services I have now, suicide as a mental health treatment solution would continue to be part of my life. It’s no different for cops.
As said, I was invited to take the full 40 hours of CIT, and not only the two hours I developed. The insight I’ve shared – redacting specific officer stories which were shared on a personal level – speaks from my understanding of the training and ingrained responsibilities officers hold in mental health crisis situations. As their job description requires, cops are placed in environments most folks can’t appreciate as unavoidably emotionally rattling. This happens at crime scenes that aren’t pretty or heart warming. As a layperson, some of the stories officers shared with me are terrifying.
These unimaginable on-the-job life events and the psychologically damaging consequences don’t clock out at the end of the shift. The jolting effects follow the cop home and are there when the cop wakes up the next day and the next day and all the next days to come.
Purposely, I saved the PTSD acronym for the last.
Here’s the insight on the law enforcement culture I want people to realize and understand. My feeling is suicide shouldn’t be exasperated by cultural competency. The law enforcement community is incredibly loyal and tightly insular, and the law enforcement community contends with its own internally propogated stigmatization. Police officers both need and deserve specific and special services for their mental health wellness. And, seeking out these critical services must be accepted, supported, and destigmatized to be effective.
I applaud with both hands and both feet – as well as the hands and feet of the (occasional) make believe people in my head – the forward-thinking and active-solution of the Albuquerque Police Department. I applaud the department’s dedication to the officers’ and the responsibility shown in dispensing the permeating self-sigmatization in law enforcement culture. And, in talking with officers on the street whom I trained, these services are being openly utilized. Score.
As a closing comment, I’ve spoken primarily of the mental health needs of law enforcement officers as being consequential of their employment. It’s equally important to address bipolar, schizophrenia, DID, depression, and any other mental health issue with the same considerations as everyone else on the planet. These mental health needs are also part of APD’s in house services. Just so you know. Score.
By the by, I aced the CIT exam. 100% is my score. Bonus.
And by the by, I’m still contending with the PTSD symptoms of APD inaction in removing an MHRAC committee member (Paula Burton) after she physically assaulted me right in front of APD personnel. C’mon, APD. She committed a crime and I’m now living with the fallout behavior of exactly what I trained APD to deescalate. That’s actually really funny as an oddly mobius consideration.
In any case, my absolute support of officer mental health services provided by APD is separate from the personal trauna created by the event at MHRAC and by Paula Burton. C’mon. Professionalism and doing the right thing should always win out.