Dealing with gruesome and traumatic crime scenes is a normal part of the job in law enforcement. However, such scenes inevitably take an emotional toll on police officers. As a result, law enforcement officers are more likely to experience high stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental and physical health problems. Yet, police mental health issues sometimes have a stigma attached to them. And that needs to change.
Some police officers, however, are reluctant to seek mental health services, so it is important that they are offered counseling and other help in a judgment-free manner. Some police departments are wise enough to offer assistance immediately after traumatic events. For instance, the Moscow Police Department offered counseling services to their officers after the murders of four local University of Idaho students, according to Fox 10 News.
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Overcoming the Stigma of Confidential Counseling for Police Officers
There has long been a stigma in law enforcement about accepting mental health services. Police officers fear that they will be viewed as weak or that obtaining these services will have an adverse impact on their careers. As a result, they often bottle up the trauma and stress associated with police work, which can be very harmful.
It is crucial to overcome this stigma against getting help. Law enforcement agencies and their internal culture must change and encourage officers to receive confidential counseling when it is needed. Such mental health services can prevent officers from committing suicide; police officers have a 54% increase in the risk of suicide, according to Tactical Emergency Medicine. This aid can also help law enforcement officers to find productive coping strategies to overcome trauma.
To overcome the stigma of seeking mental health services, police agencies can provide counseling and other mental health resources separate from law enforcement agencies. This way, an officer can contact these resources without the knowledge of their coworkers and other people in their organization.
Such mental health services should also be available for all officers because it is often difficult to tell when officers experience mental health problems from their jobs. Cumulative stress occurs over time in police work, and if officers feel they can seek mental health services without jeopardizing their job or promotional opportunities, they are more likely to get help. Ideally, law enforcement agencies should provide health insurance plans that offer free confidential counseling services with people who specialize in understanding the psychological effects of police stress.
EMDR Treatment for Helping Officers to Recover from Traumatic Events
A therapy gaining momentum mitigating police stress and other problems associated with experiencing traumatic events in policing is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). According to the Cleveland Clinic, EMDR helps people heal from trauma. It involves “moving your eyes a specific way while you process traumatic memories” and does not require talking in detail about traumatic incidents. The Cleveland Clinic posits that EDMR targets changing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that result from traumatic incidents and enables the brain to engage in a naturally healing process.
Blue H.E.L.P. Can Also Aid Officers Who Need Mental Health Services
For officers who need confidential mental health services, Blue H.E.L.P. operates the CopLine at 1-800-267-5463. This organization uses education to reduce the mental health stigma in law enforcement and advocates for benefits for law enforcement officers experiencing PTSD.