Where to Ask for Help
Several weeks ago I got a message from a police wife that follows the ammo+grace blog. She had read the article, “Experiencing Burnout,” I had written for Law Enforcement Today, and noticed that I was a family therapist. She was wondering where I was located and if I could help, as her and her husband were looking for some counseling and wanted someone affiliated with blue life. This caused me to reach out to former classmates and begin researching her area, seeing what resources I could find to pass along.
I was pretty shocked at what I found-or didn’t find. There’s a lack of help aimed specifically at first responders, and the few great resources out there can be hard to find. There’s something to be said about receiving services from someone who “gets it.” Someone who understands the shift work, the strain this job puts on a family, and the constant exposure to trauma and stress that our officers endure on a regular basis.
I know that our community has an unfortunate stigma regarding mental health and the “weakness” of reaching out for help. But I also know that more of our officers die by suicide than are killed in the line of duty.
Let that sink in for a minute. There are more officers hurting so badly that they are dying by suicide than ones that are killed from duty-related accidents or targeting.
I, as both a mental health professional and a police wife, find this absolutely heart breaking. I know from my schooling and my therapy work that trauma is real, and the effects it has on our body, brain, heart, and relationships are horrendous. I also know there are services specifically designed to help those who are suffering, if only we can reach out to them and have them reach out to us.
Research says that there are many more officers suffering from trauma-related symptoms and disorders than ones who aren’t. Statistically, about 75 percent of officers see at least one traumatic event each month. Think about the devastation a car accident or overdose has on a family-and now think about the fact that our officers see those things all the time. Think about the horror of being surrounded by blood after a shooting or holding a little child’s hand as they take their last breathe. Our first responders do that over and over again. And somehow it’s become mainstream to think of them as “weak” when asking for help? I don’t think so.
One of my favorite ways to connect people with services is through Psychology Today. This free online resource lets your search and filter through thousands of vetted therapists all over the world. You can select your city, add your insurance, and be connected to all sorts of services that you might find helpful. Therapists that meet the requirements you put in (like working in your area, accepting your insurance, specializing in your area of concerns, like trauma or marriage, and even your gender preference) pop up with a photo and description of themselves and their work.
You can also Google “first responders counseling + your city.” Depending on your area you will have a different amount of resources. Ideally, your department will also have resources for you, especially after a critical incident. It seems like departments are slowly beginning to put more of an emphasis on their officer’s mental health and make it more “acceptable” to be hurting. I know that we have come a long way from how mental health was once viewed, and I hope that one day we will all feel more comfortable talking openly about counseling, compassion fatigue, PTSD, and acute stress. Until then, please make a point to reach out to your officer, and help them reach out to someone else if they need it.
Cote is a family therapist and LEOW. She uses her background and education as an MSW to provide support for police families and marriages, and is the founder of the faith based blog ammo + grace.