CENTRAL TEXAS – Stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental health in the law enforcement community have historically created a culture that too often ignores the stress and mental anguish officer’s face, reported KVUE.
As a result, mental illness is often ignored or left undiagnosed.
The statistics related to mental illness and law enforcement suicides are staggering.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- 1 in 5 individuals in the United States will face a mental health condition this year.
- Almost 1 in 4 police officers have thoughts of suicide at some point in their life.
- 7 to 19 percent of police officers have symptoms of PTSD, compared to 3.5 percent among the general public.
- More police die by suicide than by homicide: the number of police suicides is 2.3 times that of homicides.
In 2014, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published “Breaking the Silence on Law Enforcement Suicides.”
In the report, then IACP President Craig Steckler wrote:
But our collective silence only compounds the problem. By ignoring the issue, we implicitly promote the unqualified expectation that police must, without question, be brave, steadfast, and resilient. Our refusal to speak openly about the issue perpetuates the stigma many officers hold about mental health issues—the stigma that depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide are signs of weakness and failure, not cries for help.
The suicide of Sgt. Craig Hutchinson brought light to the harsh realities associated with mental health in law enforcement. The investigation revealed that Hutchinson had a history of depression and anxiety.
Yet his trials were unknown by others.
When Hutchinson’s death was ruled a suicide, LET reported the following details:
In a sad revelation, authorities in Round Rock ruled the death of Sgt. Craig Hutchinson to be a suicide recently.
During the early morning hours of July 25, Travis County Sheriff’s Department dispatch received a call, reporting prowlers in Hutchinson’s backyard as he returned home from duty, in uniform.
He was never heard from again. His body was discovered 13 minutes later, dead from a gunshot wound through the palm of his hand and into the left side of his head.
Round Rock police found one shell casing, and no additional signs of a crime. According to Round Rock PD, the only drug found in toxicology reports was ibuprofen.
Investigators said Hutchinson had a history of depression and anxiety and was prescribed an anti-depressant in 2015, but the drug was not in his system at the time of death.
Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton thanked the Round Rock Police for their work and apologized to the citizens of Williamson County for using so many resources on the investigation. Sheriff Hamilton said he wishes he had known that Hutchinson was in the state of mind he was when he committed suicide.
Following Hutchinson’s suicide, then Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton was questioned about the problem. Moreover, people wondered what Travis County planned to do in order to address officer suicides and mental health. (Current sheriff is Sally Hernandez.)
Hamilton’s response: “We are going to address that at Travis County,” he said. “I don’t know what we are going to do. But we are going to address that issue.”
Was Sheriff Hamilton suggesting that Travis County had no mental health support services for their deputies?
In November 2015, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office hired its first staff psychologist, Dr. Cressida Kwolek.
With a caseload of nearly 1600, Dr. Kwolek has her work cut out for her. However, she feels they are making progress.
“That’s why I was hired, is that there is an awareness in this agency that keeping officers healthy psychologically is very important,” said Dr. Kwolek.
The Sheriff’s office began providing mental health training to cadets in the academy. Furthermore, they are exploring options to improve the mental health support of its deputies.
Prior to hiring Dr. Kwolek, internal mental health support services were limited in Travis County.
Retired Detective Chris Orton became dedicated to making a change within the county. In 2006, Orton was diagnosed with PTSD from 19 years of work related stress.
“Nobody cared when I was sick, nobody helped me, I did everything on my own,” said Orton.
In 2011, after nearly 5 years of struggling with his own mental illness, Orton was given an opportunity to tell his story during a four-hour class on PTSD once a week for 27 weeks.
The class created an environment that allowed fellow officers to relate to Orton’s experience. Officers in every class reached out for help, according to KVUE.
Suddenly, Orton realized how many others desperately needed support.
Orton began going to PTSD, suicide awareness, and peer support training and was shortly thereafter approved to begin teaching classes on peer support and mental health at Travis County.
While attending training on PTSD, Orton was introduced to a form of psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR.
EMDR changed his life. It became a resource for Orton to offer many others.
Over the next 4 years, Orton taught classes at Travis County, attended hundreds of hours of training, became a Stephen Minister—one on one Christ centered care. Furthermore, he developed a network of therapists whom he has referred to countless officers in need of help.
But in June 2015, Orton was told he could no longer teach per his captain’s orders.
Orton stated, “I’ve never been bullied in my life that I know of, and here I am in my 50’s and I’m being bullied for trying to help people and create something that people want.”
And then the agency was sobered by a highly publicized event. Nearly a year later, Hutchinson committed suicide.
Then, in October of 2016, after 29 years with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and three months after his friend Sgt. Craig Hutchinson committed suicide, Detective Chris Orton retired.
Although retired, Orton actively teaches peer support and mental health at law enforcement training sessions around the country and he continues to receive phone calls from officers in desperate need of help.
(Photo: Screenshot Fox5 San Diego)