DEC 17, 2021
CentralSquare recently partnered with Caron Treatment Centers and the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum for a two-part webinar series, Trauma and 9/11: Facing Challenges Together. The series showcased a panel discussion with first responders and health professionals to discuss their shared experiences from being on the ground during 9/11 and how the events of that day impacted them years later. A theme throughout the discussion was the rise of law enforcement officer suicide rates and the need to address this crisis and its causes within the field.
To start, law enforcement agencies can implement and prioritize preventive measures for their first responder teams, including wellness checks and peer-to-peer support. By incorporating preventive measures, officers can be proactive rather than reactive in times of distress. This also allows for officers to have a safe space to talk about how they are doing and know it’s OK not to be OK.
Peer-to-peer support is a resource that first responders are underutilizing. This support involves trained individuals who listen and provide mentoring to peers experiencing stress, trauma and additional stress from their personal and professional life. When it comes to implementing a peer-to-peer support system in a law enforcement agency, S.1502 The Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Counseling Act, also referred to as the COPS Counseling Act ensures that communication is kept confidential between the law enforcement officer and peer support specialist. Upholding the confidentiality rights of peer support reassures the officer that they’re safe confiding in someone about their wellbeing.
The unfortunate reality is that tragic events can happen at any time. We can put best practices and preventive measures in place, but it will still be an unforgettable experience that can change the trajectory of first responders’ lives. The webinar featured Dr. Peter J. Killeen, a Trauma Expert and Police Psychotherapist. Dr. Killeen emphasized the importance of remembering those who served during 9/11 and taking the time to educate first responders on the events of that day. He stressed the value of taking care of ourselves as much as we do for others. He stated, “It’s not shameful, endorse mental health counseling; the more we talk about it we can encourage officers to get help.”
Incorporating and prioritizing mental health resources can be the difference between life or death amongst first responders. We can take learning opportunities from these tragic events and simultaneously use proactive measures to assure our first responders are healthy and performing to the best of their ability on the job.
Another unfortunate reality in law enforcement is the number of officers who die by suicide every year. One of the panelists from the webinar, Captain Brandon Post from SAFLEO National Suicide Awareness for Law Enforcement Officers Program, is actively trying to educate law enforcement agencies on suicide to bring awareness to the field. According to Blue H.E.L.P, an agency dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health in the field, in 2021 alone, we have lost 147 officers to suicide. The resources SAFLEO provides to law enforcement agencies should couple them with preventative measures to best serve their first responders.
First responders are naturally resilient as they put themselves on the front line every day, risking their lives for the sake of their community. However, we need to assure them that it’s OK not to be OK and provide them with the resources to be mentally and physically healthy. We often hear the term post-traumatic stress disorder in the field, but during the webinar, Reverend Dr. Paul D. Krampitz shared the concept of post-traumatic growth. He described it as the embodiment of spirituality, sense of self, and family strength the first responder finds after a tragic event. When first responders can confide in a spiritual component that is not necessarily religious, it allows them to find hope while moving forward. Being strong emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually makes first responders resilient. Law enforcement agencies should recognize the importance of prioritizing mental health amongst their culture to build and maintain a resilient and hopeful team.
The discussion concluded with participants offering up tokens of hope for first responders dealing with life after tragic events and best practices for taking care of their mental wellbeing. As we move forward, it’s evident we can no longer neglect mental health in law enforcement; we must prioritize first responders’ wellbeing and interweave resiliency and hope in the culture to break the stigma.
For more information, tune into the recording of the webinars here: