We Need to Care About the Mental Health of Police, Too

Rates of law enforcement suicide have increased over the past 5 years. How can this problem be prevented?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

On Monday, September 13th, 2021, loved ones and colleagues gathered to share memories of former Milwaukee police officer Tom Kline, who took his own life a year ago. National data indicates that more law enforcement officers have died by suicide than in the line of duty over the past 5 years. Police, including police chiefs, have very high burning out rates, approaching the epidemic rate of physicians.

Many reasons for the suicides seem responsible. Some are similar to mental health caregivers. Burnout is one. Family problems another. There may be guilt, perhaps unconscious at times, from the public charge of racism. There is the trauma.

As one former police officer said: “I can still picture every baby that has passed away or has been killed. When I’m sleeping, I can picture them in my dreams. That’s an image I’m never going to forget.”

Perhaps he can forget them with beneficial treatment. But treatment has been hard to get and there is a reluctance to admit it is needed.

Posttraumatic stress disorder in police is especially challenging because it often does not qualify for Workers’ Compensation. Thankfully, today, October 1st, a bill in my home state of Wisconsin goes into effect to provide just that. Besides the financial compensation, it will make it easier to get needed psychiatric treatment. There is also a national organization called Blue H.E.L.P., which advocates for mental health awareness. These and other related developments for police well-being are well overdue.

Do you have any ideas on how we can help sustain the mental health of the police force? Share your thoughts with PTEditor@MMHGroup.com.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.