Today many jobs come with built in stress factors, but none as much as those experienced by law enforcement officers. Police men and women encounter extreme stressors daily. To address concerns about that stress, the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement (CABLE) sponsored an all-day event on Wednesday, "Training the Mind: Preventing police suicide & promoting mental wellness" at Central Connecticut State University.
The subject matter is a difficult one and all too familiar to many of the officers, counselors and dispatchers who attended. The conference comes, in part, as a response to the suicide deaths of four Connecticut police officers earlier this year and aims to shed light on navigating through tough issues as a result of what may be considered an occupational hazard.
CABLE has been in operation since 2003, and provides additional resources for peer support and crisis intervention training to existing departments regular employee assistance provider programs.
"It's common for officers to internalize problems because they're expected to resolve everyone else's," said Inspector Kenneth Edwards, Chief Instructor and Statewide Law Enforcement CIT Coordinator and President of Board of Directors of CABLE.
"We need to remove the stigma associated with seeking help as opposed to burying bodies," said Dr. John Violanti, during his "The Enemy Within" presentation. Examining how insidious stress factors build up from day-to-day police work, Dr. Violanti said that for 300 audience members there might be as many as 25 officers who have thought about suicide as a way to ease the pain.
Violanti urged officers to put their detective experience to work when they see classic warning symptoms in fellow workers. Depression, withdrawal, moodiness, and personality shifts all are characteristics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "Don't be afraid to ask a question of a colleague. There are no stupid questions. Even more importantly, don't be afraid to be afraid. That goes for taking care of yourself too," said Violanti. "Ambivalence is the doorway to intervention."
Also presenting a case study, "A Journey to suicide," was Janice McCarthy, widow of Officer Paul McCarthy. Officer McCarthy suffered from an accident on the job and subsequently endured a long emotional descent from what Janice best described as cumulative stress.
"To see what you see on a daily basis and deny its effects on you is not rational," McCarthy said of her late husband and law enforcement in general. McCarthy described horrors of decapitation and cases of witnessing deaths repeatedly, and urged everyone to arm themselves with wellness tools to be healthy in this profession. "Clean out the psychic box where pain tends to pile up," McCarthy said making the analogy.
"It is depressing," said West Hartford Officer Eric Rocheleau.
"No matter how much training you have initially upon becoming a cop, it doesn't prepare you for how you will react. The violence we witness is life changing and it's hard to process on a daily basis," Rocheleau said after seeing a video of officers reacting to a fellow officer who committed suicide.
Rocheleau and West Hartford's Sgt. Kim Sullivan are part of the department's EAP team, which consists of about eight officers. "The culture has changed somewhat, and when anyone uses the program, everything thing is kept confidential," said Sullivan. "We use peer support and step in to listen or guide and just be with the person when they need it most," said Rocheleau.
CABLE offers Crisis in Intervention (CIT) and Peer Support training. Since 2003 CABLE has trained 1221 police officers, public safety dispatchers, mental health providers and mental health probation and parole officers from 54 agencies in CIT. Additionally CABLE trained 102 troopers for the "State Trooper Offering Peer Support (STOPS)" program.
CABLE's statewide CIT implementation efforts are funded by the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Specific areas that are covered are: active listening skills, healthy boundaries, maintaining confidentiality, effects of chronic stress on body and mind, physiological response to acute stress, Post Traumatic Stress and PTSD, relationship issues, substance abuse, gambling, addictions, domestic violence, healthy life skills for stress management, bereavement and grief, suicide assessment and referral, making effective referrals to the contracted employee assistance provider and more.
For more information visit: http://cableweb.org/