3 Ways Your Agency Can Prioritize Mental Health for Its Officers

May brings a myriad of special dates, from graduations to celebrations like Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that mental illness is experienced by one in every five U.S. adults every year. In addition, NAMI states that “the average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is eleven years.” This is a gap that needs to be closed, and one step is to begin prioritizing our mental health. 

Given the high level of stress and danger faced by law enforcement, mental health issues are of particular concern for police officers. According to one 2019 study that assessed the mental health of police officers, researchers discovered that 26 percent of participants met the criteria for a range of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, burnout, or PTSD. Here are three ways law enforcement agencies can get assistance in prioritizing mental health issues for those that protect and serve:

1. Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017

In 2017, the much-needed Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) was signed into law. As stated by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS),

“This act called for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit a report to Congress on mental health practices and services in the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that could be adopted by federal, state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies and containing recommendations to Congress on effectiveness of crisis lines for law enforcement officers, efficacy of annual mental health checks for law enforcement officers, expansion of peer mentoring programs, and ensuring privacy considerations for these types of programs.”

LEMHWA is essential. The health of law enforcement officers and support teams goes beyond the physical. Mental health should never be sidelined or blatantly ignored. It’s a key component of any person’s overall well-being. We need to normalize mental health care the same way we do physical care. Caring for the physical, emotional, and mental health of law enforcement officers helps keep our communities and country a safer place.

2. LEMHWA Program Grants

Through the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program, grants are available to law enforcement agencies and their officers for a variety of mental health and wellness services and strategies. These include but are not limited to:

  • Training and mentoring for officers’ mental and emotional health
  • Implementation of peer support
  • Family outreach and resources
  • Suicide prevention

Nearly ten million dollars is available in potential funding through the various LEMHWA projects. Grant awards are designed to support local, state, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies. Funding may be applied to new or existing programs. Certain restrictions apply.

3. Mental Health Resources for Officers

Three ways your law enforcement agency can prioritize mental health for your officers are:

  • Creating a mental health collaboration program
  • Providing a health insurance plan that includes both therapy and PTO with sufficient time off for cases of trauma
  • Easy access to support groups for officers

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has a complete toolkit for law enforcement agencies: Planning and Implementing the Police Mental-Health Collaboration Program. Consider a PMHC program for your agency.

Look to the IACP’s (International Association of Chiefs of Police) home page as a resource for Officer Safety and Wellness. It offers a collection of links for direct resources to help implement Mental Health strategies for your officers, including how to build resiliency in officers and leaders, as well as family wellness and officer safety.

Valor for Blue is another Officer Safety and Wellness program that agencies can use as a resource. Check it out for its podcasts, events, videos, and toolkits designed to make it easier for agencies to implement and establish mental health programs.

While it’s important to recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we believe mental health is something we should be thinking and talking about year-round. That is why it’s essential for law enforcement agencies to prioritize mental health for their officers and civilian employees by providing resources, programs, and support.

Categories : Mental Health

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