Saving Lives…A New Way
Sergeant Mark St. Hilaire is passionate about saving lives. Perhaps, you think, this is not so unusual for a police officer. Sgt. St. Hilaire wants to save lives through wellness. Not special weapons and tactics, not body armor, not sophisticated shooting techniques, but wellness.
Mention the term “wellness” and you may get many responses. Some people think of wellness as keeping physically fit. Others think of emotional and psychological wellness. You can even consider well-managed finances as a component of wellness. St. Hilaire believes that wellness in law enforcement personnel encompasses all of these qualities. In other words, wellness is about living a well-balanced life.
St. Hilaire becomes more and more enthusiastic as he discusses his passion for wellness in the law enforcement community; his speech infused with a strong, no-nonsense Bostonian accent. “In law enforcement,” he explains, “there are some things that we have no control over. We can’t control when emergency calls come in. We can’t control what we face when we arrive at a call. Many times, we have no control over our schedule. Wellness is about taking charge of those things we do have control over.”
Sgt. St. Hilaire lists the three most important issues impacting police wellness:
- Maintaining physical fitness.
- Seeking out high-quality, confidential counseling when needed.
- Looking out for your co-workers, leaving no man (or woman) behind.
“I heard about a police officer who was retiring,” St. Hilaire said. “His chief asked him about his greatest career achievement. The retiring officer thought about it and said, ‘I went to all of my child’s soccer games.’” The chief was puzzled, but St. Hilaire feels that engagement with your family is a high career achievement. “There’s no room for error at home.”
St. Hilaire has managed to successfully juggle career and family. He is a 26 year veteran of law enforcement, with 20 years at the Natick, Massachusetts Police Department. He is a patrol supervisor for the day shift at NPD. Wellness issues have been a sideline interest for him for many years.
He cited an alarming statistic. “Every 17 to 21 hours a police officer in the United States commits suicide. This is four to one as many suicides as line of duty deaths. We pay attention to the lessons learned from line of duty deaths and recognize the fallen on websites, memorials, and in articles. We rarely discuss police suicide.”
St. Hilaire believes that the hyper-vigilant roller coaster of police emotions and the resulting adrenaline surging through the system combine to negatively influence both physical and mental well being. St. Hilaire stated that the life expectancy of police officers is ten years less than Americans working in other vocations. Effectively coping with this roller coaster as well as the negativity experienced in the street, is crucial for survival on the job and after retirement.
St. Hilaire needs help from LET members. He is conducting an informal survey to learn how various law enforcement agencies are dealing with wellness issues. Following are his questions:
1. How are police agencies addressing personnel health and wellness issues?
2. How are agencies addressing mental health needs and police officer suicide prevention?
3. Are these issues addressed at in-service training?
4. How receptive are police personnel to these initiatives?
You can reach Sgt. St. Hilaire via his account on Law Enforcement Today or by (confidential) email: [email protected]
Robert Douglas, founder of the National Police Suicide Foundation stated, “As the stressors of our officers increase, so does the risk of suicide. I ask that you continue to work and pray to bring about an even greater awareness of this issue.” Following up on Mark St. Hilaire’s request is a great way to be part of the solution.