The National Alliance on Mental Health has published statistical information about what many of our law enforcement officers are experiencing. Here are statistics from NAMI:
- Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life
- The suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.
- In the smallest departments, the suicide rate for officers increases to almost four times the national average.
- More police die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017 there were an estimated 140 law enforcement suicides.
- Compared to the general population, law enforcement report much higher rates of depression, PTSD, burnout, and other anxiety related mental health conditions.
It’s hard to identify with the constancy of stress that our law enforcement community has to deal with in a given day. In a typical day there are so many different aspects of serving their community including domestic problems, opioid and drug-related offenses, violence, crime, threats, criticisms, emergencies, protests, traffic enforcement issues and so much more. Law officers have to make split second decisions that could mean the difference between life and death and then are held with strict accountability for those decisions.
It is a demanding job with a significant amount of toxic stress. The above statistics indicate that many officers experience significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In a typical job situation where there is a significant level of chronic stress we can find ways to ease that stress in that workplace. This is not so with law enforcement. For the good of the community and for the protection of our citizens and their own lives, police officers must remain in a brain state of high alert as they encounter so many difficult situations or circumstances that could become dangerous in a very short period of time. Helping officers to calm their brains and regulate can be a huge challenge just because of all the complex situations they encounter.
However, we can provide strategies for wellness with law enforcement leadership and police officers. I think it would be tremendously helpful for each police officer to become aware and better understand the impact of what they are experiencing each day. This is not just a feeling but a neuro-scientific reality that has all kinds of impact on their capability to think, reason and respond. I also believe that helping our law enforcement community find support among their peers and participate in regulation interventions when they are off duty can make a huge difference to their long-range resiliency and mental health.
At Lakeside we have great respect for our law enforcement community and want the very best for them in education and in support. We have been working with key leaders in this field to develop more training and support for law enforcement professionals that we can make available to them. It is a part of the training in our regional trauma summits and will be a continued priority in our trauma training development. We recognize that they do a thankless job and we certainly respect the level of stress they face as they strive to protect our communities.