A Cop First and Foremost
Whether they refer to themselves as “blue bloods” or not, law enforcement members are especially connected to their cop identities. Many are cops first and foremost, both on and off the clock. Carrying a badge and a gun are paramount to that identity. But mental health advocates say loosening the reins on that identity is one of the keys to reducing the growing number of suicides in law enforcement.
In order to take care of their mental health, advocate and cop widow Janice McCarthy told the BBC that cops need to be “multidimensional.” That is, they need to have other identities in addition to being a cop. For officers concealing their struggles, Janice has one message:
"If you're not a cop tomorrow, who are you?....are you a husband? Are you a father? You need to be multidimensional and you need to take care of yourself emotionally. I would want them to know that they are more than a police officer and that their life means more than this job."
The men and women who protect us need to find meaning outside of the job, McCarthy added.
And for the cops who do not want to give up the gun and badge in exchange for treatment, states are working to find new solutions. When a gun and badge have to be taking away, Illinois lawmakers hope that a grace period is the answer. Cops and other gun owners can keep their Firearms Owners Identification Card during this 60-day grace period during which they seek treatment. Then they can go through a renewal application to carry again.
Of course, law enforcement departments across the country also need more funding for better mental health training. As part of her advocacy with Care of Police Suicide Survivors (Copss), McCarthy helped create a bill to mandate mental health training for offices; however, the state congress has not acted on the legislation.
On the federal level, the Trump Administration has authorized up to 7.5 million a year to address suicide prevention through mental health screening and education.
But researchers also point out that funding can only go so far; it won't change the nature of the job. Men and women in law enforcement face physical danger and societal strife on a daily basis.
Witnessing repeated traumatic events while feeling “stuck in the middle” of political conflict is often an unavoidable part of the job, according to University of Buffalo professor and police veteran, John Violanti, who spoke to the BBC.
Grant money cannot change what law enforcement officers see on the job, but advocates hope it will fund the training and therapy tools to help officers better cope with their daily realities.
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