EDITORS NOTE: Guest contributor Sean Peterson is a patrolman with the Taunton Police Department in Southeastern Massachusetts and a member of the regional Critical Incident Stress Management team. He is also the owner and performance director at Chaos Fitness.
I sat down to write this in the wake of New York City Police Department’s ninth suicide this year. The current Blue H.E.L.P. statistics stand at 131 suicides on the year, with four months to go. Protesters are literally begging police to commit suicide in Portland, Oregon. With what feels like everyone and everything against us, how do we rise above the darkness? Below I have outlined some thoughts and ideas surrounding mental and physical health we first responders can easily employ in such trying times.
A Physical and Mental Approach
“Combat” or “Square” Breathing
Here’s the simple process…
1. Intently breath in with strong focus- slowly counting 1, 2, 3, 4
2. hold that breath counting 1, 2, 3 ,4
3. slowly and consistently exhale that breath 1, 2, 3, 4
Simply put, combat/square breathing is an effective way to calm the nervous system. It is a very basic introduction to the world of mindfulness, creating space between ourselves and our reactions. It brings our focus to the present moment by concentrating our attention on our breathing, allowing us to slow things down for a while, so our bodies can catch up. Consider implementing this technique to offset the adrenaline spikes and stressors associated with hot calls, inter-department nonsense and the obstacles of everyday life. The beauty of this technique is… Continue reading
One of your peers is suffering; maybe you are too! They want to be good at their job and actually make the world a better place. However, one too many dead baby calls, and too many months on the night shift with all the drunks and people shoving their cell phones in your face and your partner has had enough. Of course all of this comes on top of the increased violence in your area and the unending tide of gang members plying their drug trade in your neighborhood and your peers are telling you to “suck it up” and “shake it off” — but you can’t. It’s bad enough that work is unending trauma and tragedy, but your spouse is nagging you about not being able to cover the bills this month and why you can’t make your kids recital tomorrow afternoon. Maybe you have experienced some of this too? So what do you tell your partner about why it’s important to take care of yourself? How do you endure this job until retirement and not eat your gun first?
The recent surge of police officer suicides should be a red flag to what is happening within our profession. We need to deal with law enforcement suicide as a symptom of something much more complex and insidious that is eroding our people from within. We spend lots and lots of money on technology to improve policing while at the same time forgetting that law enforcement is a people business. If we don’t take care of our people, they won’t be able to take care of THE PEOPLE!
How do you handle that one guest that just will not leave? I recently heard a definition for what trauma is. Trauma was defined as: when you leave the scene, but the scene does not leave you. That definition resonated with me. How many calls did I leave that did not leave me?
I know we all have scenes and calls that have not left us. Some are years old. Some are obvious. The larger scenes and the obviously tragic calls stay with us. It is expected. In my department, certain calls are expected to cause trauma such as an officer involved shooting or a line of duty death.
When something like that happens, peer support is automatically activated and… Continue reading
Over the past 18 years it has been my privilege to design and provide training for law enforcement officers in Spiritual Survival. My training addresses a very specific aspect of the law enforcement experience: the spiritual dimension. Spiritual Survival training is, I believe, a crucial aspect of training to help officers successfully negotiate the challenges of a law enforcement career. The goal is to help officers recognize and acknowledge the noble idealism and integrity within the human spirit that brings them into the career. It is this human spirit that can keep them devoted to their law enforcement mission, with all its challenges, disappointments and difficulties. My aim is to help them identify the toxins that daily deplete and exhaust their spirit, equip them with tools to nourish and replenish their precious idealism and integrity, and renew their commitment to faithful performance of their law enforcement mission.
Often, when police chiefs hear that I offer training for “Spiritual Survival,” they reassure me that their agencies already have chaplaincy services, so their agencies don’t need the spiritual survival training I offer. That’s when I gently explain that the two support structures, chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training, are not the same.
Chaplaincy services inspire strong reaction – avid advocates and suspicious detractors. A common story among law enforcement executives tells of a skilled, dedicated chaplain who intervened to save a cop in distress; others regale me with anecdotes of chaplains who overstepped their bounds and trespassed into the realm of proselytizing. But in all cases I unequivocally assure law enforcement executives that Spiritual Survival training is not equivalent to chaplaincy.
Indeed, chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training both support officers and agencies, and ought to be complementary. But they each have profoundly different goals.
REACTIVE BENEFICIARY OR PROACTIVE PARTICIPANT
The greatest distinction between chaplaincy and Spiritual Survival training is this: Chaplaincy is reactive by its nature, whereas Spiritual Survival training is proactive. Even more significant is the fact that officers who receive chaplaincy services are… Continue reading
Today is PTSD Awareness Day 2017 and June is PTSD Awareness Month here in the United States. Law enforcement officers can experience overwhelming issues of cumulative stress and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder known as PTSD. We need to start taking care of each other. Continue reading
The Law Enforcement Survival Institute is proud to announce the release of John Marx’s new book: Armor Your Self™: How To Survive A Career In Law Enforcement.
The book helps law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in order to build Tactical Resilience™.
This book also provides guidance and support for law enforcement family members to use in order to learn how to help their family survive that career in policing.
This book is about “Saving the Lives of the People Who Save Lives”
Police work is the most toxic job on the planet, and if the members of the law enforcement community don’t take measures to protect themselves, this job will eat them up!
If law enforcement officers did a true threat assessment of their careers, they would realize that the real dangers lie not with the bad guys, but within the stresses of the job. High rates of suicide, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, PTSD, heart attack and cancer are the real cop killers.
First responders and public safety workers experience repeated exposure to trauma through their work. This can have a lasting impact on mental well-being and puts these men at increased risk. As a result of career-related stress, first responders and public safety workers often face… Continue reading
Have you ever wondered how diabetes could affect your job as a police officer or other type of law enforcement professional? I hadn’t either until I came across an interesting article that started me thinking and I wanted to share it with you.
The Mayo Clinic defines Diabetes as “a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s also your brain’s main source of fuel.”
The article I found was posted on TheDiabetesCouncil.com asked “Can You Join The Police Force If You Have Diabetes?” so I read further and found it very interesting. Here is an except with some interesting thoughts from our friends at TheDiabetesCouncil.com
“Do diabetes and law enforcement mix, or does having diabetes disqualify one from working in law enforcement?
Although having diabetes should not disqualify you from working as a law enforcement officer, the nature of the occupation would require… Continue reading
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and this week is Suicide Prevention Week. Let’s stem the tide of law enforcement officer suicides together. Watch for these signs and learn more from our partners at mantherapy.org
Man Therapy is a tongue-in-cheek website to get men and especially first-responders to talk about and deal with the traumas they face. Follow them on the Man Therapy Social Channels
On Facebook at www.facebook.com/ManTherapy and on Twitter – @DrRichMahogany
Do you have a suicide prevention program in your agency?
Well, you no longer have an excuse for not having a program. With a video produced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Working Minds Program and the Carson J Spencer Foundation, and our CopsAlive.com roll call discussion guide you can create a ready made program the moment you finish reading this page. Get all the resources you need for free at www.CopsAlive.com/SuicidePrevention
We should care about our mental health and the effects of PTSD because law enforcement is a high-risk, high-stress career that exposes all of us to excessive amounts of trauma and tragedy and we ALL need to learn that we can’t cope with all that negative stuff just by surprising it. Good mental health, like good physical health doesn’t come automatically, you have to work to build strength in both areas and taking care of your emotional Self is as important as taking care of your physical Self. When you do become injured physically or emotionally it helps if you understand the issues surrounding your injury and know about your treatment options. Learning about PTSD and other issues that can challenge your mental health can be as important as learning about physical conditions like back injuries and the preventative strategies that can help mitigate those injuries.
In their section on PTSD Basics, the National Center for PTSD operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says “After a trauma or life-threatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness, or trouble sleeping. If these reactions do not go away or if they get worse, you may have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”