In February, The Kim Foundation was invited to come and speak with the Lincoln Police Department (LPD) during two full weeks of officer in-service trainings to address mental illness and suicide among the police force; both topics that aren’t often discussed.
According to a study conducted by “The Badge of Life,” for each law enforcement suicide there are roughly 1,000 police officers still working with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (1). One of the biggest road blocks in talking about mental health issues within the force is the overcoming the “tough guy” culture. This is the idea that police officers should somehow be able to deal with the residual trauma they are exposed to simply because this kind of exposure is part of the job. It also refers to the idea that if they are having a mental health struggle that they often try to “fix it” or “handle it” themselves instead of asking for help. This mentality often contributes to the myth that asking for help is a sign of weakness and we are seeing more officers develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and even substance use disorders because they aren’t getting the help they need.
During the hour long training, we showed the documentary “Breaking the Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement.” The video featured various law enforcement officers within the Kenosha and Denver Police Department, all of whom have either experienced a mental health or substance use challenge, made a suicide attempt, or lost a friend on the force to suicide. The video addressed this “tough guy” culture and the importance of utilizing psychological or peer support services on a regular basis.
“If I am really stressed, I talk to someone about it,” said Detective Jode Sprague of the Denver Police Department. Det. Sprague shared his suicide attempt and personal struggle with substance abuse on the documentary (2). “It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of someone who recognizes when there’s a problem and deals with it instead of just thinking, Oh, I’ll just deal with that later,” explained Det. Sprague.
In addition to showing the documentary we also discussed risk factors, warning signs, protective factors, and how to address the topic of suicide with a friend or colleague that they may be concerned about. LPD provided an Internal Resource Officer (IRO) to speak at each session to ensure that all officers knew what internal resources and services were available and how they could utilize those support services.
In recent years, more and more officers throughout the country have begun to utilize peer support. Peer support is an informal and private opportunity for law enforcement to speak to another uniformed officer who is specially trained to assist with any personal, professional, or mental health issues they may be experiencing (3). They are there to provide support and resources.
“I think the biggest thing we do as men (and women) and as cops in general, is that we want to give people answers,” explains Lt. John Coppedge of the Denver Police Department. “But to be effective in peer support you can’t do that. You have to really listen to them and let them find the answer themselves (2).”
- “Breaking The Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement” Video https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=badge+of+honor%2c+police+suicide+prevention&&view=detail&mid=DE3A3F9D4CC6BE4D6FB5DE3A3F9D4CC6BE4D6FB5&&FORM=VRDGAR