Stand for the Silent: Putting first responders first
KTVO is launching a new initiative called 'Stand for the Silent: a story, a moment, an impact.'
Throughout this new campaign, we'll be sharing stories of how the heartland is bringing mental health to light.
As the nation, and those close to law enforcement officers know, being strong for a career that spans decades…takes its toll.
Now local police departments are taking a stand to keep their officers safe.
“There’s no crying in baseball, there’s no crying in law enforcement. That was the persona,” said Moberly Police Chief Troy Link. “I think that we are moving away from that, I think people, and the profession, are a little more ready to accept that a human being can’t take 20 or 30 years of this, and not have a negative effect.”
“That’s what has caused some of the problems over the years is that we’re cops, we’re supposed to take it, we’ve got broad shoulders, we can handle it, and that’s gotten officers in the profession into trouble,” said Chief Jim Hughes of the Kirksville Police Department.
Chief Link has been an officer for 26 years. In that time, he told KTVO that he's been exposed to a variety of tragic situations.
“Car accidents, violent crime, suicides. Us, emergency services, ambulance, we’re all responding to those on a pretty frequent basis,” Link explained.
Chief Hughes’ police career of 40 years has gone through the same experiences.
“We see good people who get victimized by events and situations they had no control over, and we see that over, and over, and over again. We see the impacts of life changing events on people over, and over, and over again,” Hughes said.
DECADES OF TRAUMA CAUSING AN IMPACT
According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than twice as many police officers die from suicide each year than from homicide.
Chief Hughes told KTVO he’s worked with five police officers who committed suicide.
Seven to 19 percent of police officers experience symptoms of PTSD, according to NAMI. For the general population, only 3.5 percent do.
PTSD can be caused from a single incident, but it can also be provoked from years of exposure to traumatic incidents.
“If I’m the one being shot at or threatened and I have to shoot back, and it’s a long event, I’m probably going to have symptoms of PTSD from that. I think overall, most of that is a cumulative effect,” Link said. “You have stress, you have shift work that is all over the place, you have poor eating habits, you have no time, or you’re just too tired to go exercise, all of those things bleed into this where suddenly, I start to suffer the effects of depression, probably related to stress, and then it just seems to downtown from there.”
A police officer candidate is required to undergo a psychological test before they become an officer.
But after that, the only other time a psychological screening is required is when an officer is involved in a critical incident or lethal force situation.
Chief Link explained he feels a responsibility to look out for his officer’s mental health.
“I think it’s very important for me as a chief to provide mental health training. Recognizing when there’s a potential problem early and getting it stopped, or at least making the effort to provide them resources to get it stopped, is important because once it gets entrenched, it’s even more difficult to get back on the right side of things,” he said.
The two Heartland police chiefs have teamed up to create a solution of their officers themselves, designing a peer support group.
“We don’t have those services like Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield do, we think a solution is perhaps to create our own,” Link said. “Agencies in Northeast Missouri get officers trained as their peer support counselor, they’re on an activation list, and they go to whatever agency needs them within about 24 hours of that critical incident happening. It would be a good thing for the officers, for everybody involved with it, the dispatchers, the EMTs to kind of sit down and talk about that critical incident, how it affected them, and it seems to be once they’ve talked about it, get those feelings out, realize that they’re not alone, they’re not bottled up, it helps with the healing and growth progress after that which may help down the road eliminate some of the PTSD symptoms that may come up with a long term career.”
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AND LAW ENFORCEMENT TEAMING UP
Heather Adkins works at Mark Twain Behavioral Health in the Emergency Room Enhancement Program as a Care Coordinator.
A new partnership with the police is helping to transform decades old stigmas.
“We’re doing debriefing with officers regularly when it’s not some major incident, when it’s just every day regular stressors,” said Adkins.
It takes the first step and gets officers in the door, showing them help is there if they need it.
“I think we feel like a big family, it’s not mental health and law enforcement, we’ve molded that together to where we are working together,” Adkins said.
Chief Hughes said the new initiatives have made a difference.
“There’s been a huge amount of progress in Kirksville, and the surrounding six counties,” said Hughes. “The past three years out of that 40 years has just been an incredible turnaround of the receptivity, the collaboration that we have with the mental health practitioners, the clinicians, those providing the treatment just has been incredible.”
Adkins told KTVO a common misconception about mental health is that talking about it makes it worse.
“For years there was this rule that said , 'You don’t ask people if they’re wanting to harm themselves because it will then push them to do that.' We have in the last few years tried to redirect that,” Adkins said. “It’s best to be very direct and to ask people what their intentions are, and thoughts are, and you’re much more likely to get an honest answer from somebody if you do that. It does not cause people to want to then do that, if that wasn’t a thought in their head, it doesn’t plant that seed, and then push them in that direction.”
Adkins says if you know someone who needs help, don’t hesitate to call for assistance.
“I know there is a lot of stigma, and people can be upset with you, but I think at the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s right and help people,” Adkins explained.
Mark Twain Behavioral Health has a 24-hour crisis line staffed by master’s level clinicians. Their number is 800-356-5395.