Letters: Support police with mental health services
Police officers deal with trauma all of the time on the job. Caught in the crossfire of violent crimes. Finding and recovering bodies of murder victims, some of whom are children. Targets for lone wolf shootings. Injecting NARCAN, the overdose reversal drug, into people who’ve overdosed on fentanyl laced heroin, trying to save their lives.
For most people, just one of these experiences would be enough to cause trauma. But police officers face unthinkable situations daily, sometimes leading to significant mental health challenges for our officers like anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and even suicidal thoughts.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), between 7 to 19 percent of police officers have symptoms of PTSD. In comparison, only 3.5 percent of the general population experiences PTSD. Almost one in four officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, and suicide rates in small police departments are almost four times the national average. Just last October in the Fifth District, Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen desperately pleaded for better mental health services after his daughter, also a police officer, tried to take her own life. She was struggling with PTSD after responding to a case involving a murdered mother and young son. Our police officers need access to mental health services to help them cope with these types of unforgettable situations.
Police officers may also face a culture of silence when it comes to mental health challenges. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of officers never seek mental health treatment or services. Fortunately, there is a growing trend among law enforcement groups, including the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), to change that culture and offer officers the support and treatment they need to continue to protect themselves and our communities. Since 2010, IMPD and the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police (IFOP) have supported a mental health and wellness program for officers that is currently serving as a national model. Officers in Indianapolis can receive counseling and referrals to doctors and clinicians through this unique in-house program, staffed by fellow trained officers.
To help more police departments develop and implement similar programs, I’ve introduced H.R. 2228, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, with my colleague, Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), a former police chief in Orlando. This legislation directs the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Veterans Affairs to improve the sharing of federal resources to equip local law enforcement agencies to address mental health challenges faced by law enforcement officers. It also makes grants available to initiate peer mentoring pilot programs, develop training for mental health providers specific to law enforcement mental health needs, and support law enforcement officers by studying the effectiveness of crisis hotlines and annual mental health checks.
This legislation has been endorsed by IMPD, IFOP, the National Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Officers, the Major County Sheriffs of America, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National District Attorneys Association, and the Sergeants Benevolent Association. Companion legislation, S. 867, introduced by Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, has passed the Senate.
While it’s important to prepare police officers to safely interact with people suffering from mental illnesses, we must support our officers with mental health services that provide them the training and resources to protect their own emotional and mental well-being on the job. We owe this to all of our heroes in law enforcement across the country. As Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police said, “Unlike many other professions, sometimes you can't leave the job at the office.”