Research is most valuable in the hands of those it is meant to help. For more than a decade, we have translated psychological and organizational behavior research into practical training resources. Recently, we added a podcast to those resources, allowing researchers to share their study results directly with the law enforcement community. They, in turn, provide much-appreciated feedback directly to those researchers with perspectives from the streets. For the first time, a timely and relevant conversation is bringing scientific study to life and helping the people it’s meant for.
There is an alarming trend inside the law enforcement profession: police suicides. Administrators all over the world are asking themselves, “What can we do to help?”
- Recognize that suicide is the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface of the water are the symptoms of a deeper wellness issue.
Most people who choose suicide do so as a last resort. They have been experiencing pain for a length of time, without relief. To effectively address a suicidal trend within an organizational culture, acknowledge that an effective intervention must focus in on promoting wellness.
- Keep talking about wellness, thus reducing the stigmas surrounding the conversation.
Leading into a culture of wellness means breaking down barriers to health. At every level of the organization, wellness must be a part of the conversation. Instead of talking about mental illness or PTSD, switch up the verbiage! Use wellness as frequently as possible as a marker of professional success.
- When a traumatic event occurs, handle the people who respond to it with dignity and courageous intervention. Verbally recognize the trauma, explain that people respond to each of these events differently, and then offer to meet individually and/or provide whatever resources the department has available to help them be well.
The focus of this kind of conversation is twofold: it addresses the elephant in the room and makes clear that the department’s (or leader’s) goal is to promote and support wellness. Everyone on the scene knows it was traumatic, but saying it out loud is akin to letting the air out of an overfilled balloon. Following that up with an offer of resources reminds each officer of the department’s commitment to wellness.
- When behavior changes happen, don’t be afraid to force the issue.
The hardest part for survivors is living with the ability to look in the rearview. I often hear, “Now that I think about it, he was acting strange,” or “Looking back, I can see the warning signs.” Some of that can’t be avoided, but if you’re intent on building a culture of wellness, then you have to empower your leadership to act when they notice one of their officers is in distress.
- Have a variety of resources at the ready.
Just as officers handle stress and trauma differently, their wellness is also unique to their personalities. Some prefer therapy while others do not want traditional treatment. Some appreciate the EAP program and like critical incident stress debriefing. Others prefer to process difficulties privately. To meet your officers where they are, provide multiple options that they can choose between or even stack together.