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What IS the Police Mental Health Check?

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An overview of the program essential for police officer survival on the streets.
 
A Badge of Life Article

Simply put, this is an annual process in which we suggest an officer visit a licensed therapist once a year for at least one visit as a “checkup,” in the same way one visits a doctor for an annual physical or a dentist for a cleaning and check for cavities and other problems.

police mental health check
The annual police mental health check

The most critical part of the mental health check program is that it be voluntary and that the department knows nothing about it.  They don’t have to know when you see the dentist for a checkup, do they?   

Still sound uncomfortable? Make you squirm? Relax, and just think about it. Your career is one of the most toxic, dangerous, violent and traumatic in the world. You deal with “unhealth” on the streets every day and night, then go home and try to lead a healthy home life.  

You are dealing with stress, yes—but more importantly, you are dealing with TRAUMA on a continuum. While each traumatic incident may not disable you or give you PTSD, you are dealing with it nonetheless, year after year, decade after decade. 

Does it wear at you? Yes!  

This isn’t about being “strong” or “tough.”  It’s about surviving—on the streets and at home.  If your mind is on the mortgage or other problems, it is NOT on that traffic stop you're about to make.  If an officer is depressed or suffering from PTSD, he is a danger not only to himself but to the other officers who are relying on him.  Your emotional well-being IS important out on the streets!

But doing an annual mental health check doesn’t mean “something is wrong.” In fact, it’s better that you do it BEFORE something “is wrong.”  Saying “Get help when you need it” isn’t enough for cops—just like a physical exam, be smart and be “ahead of the curve.” We call it “prevention.”  The idea is to accomplish a number of things: 

1.   Bring up issues that are currently bothering you. How are things going? 

2.   Explore the past year and look for areas of concern or in which you might wish to make changes.  

3.   Examine your coping and resiliency skills during stressful and traumatic events. What are your coping mechanisms? Are they healthy? How might you improve on them?  

4.  How are things at home? 

5.  Set goals for the next year. 

6.   Know a therapist already—so they will be there if you do need them! 

HERE'S THE DEAL: 

This is voluntary. You don't have to go! You don't have to see the dentist, either--ever. You can let your teeth rot and "gum it" the rest of your life.

You don’t have to see your family doctor for an annual checkup—you can just wait until you have an incurable disease.

That black mole on your leg? You can ignore it—and die. IT’S ALL ABOUT CHOICES—HEALTHY ONES.

Just like a physical or dental exam, you may find two or more visits necessary. Again, these are confidential visits, and the goal is emotional survival in one of the world’s most stressful jobs.

Saving your life on the streets:

Being in top shape, emotionally, can save your life on the streets. If you—or your partner—are stressed and worried about something going on in your life, you can lose that quarter to a half second of reaction time that could mean the difference between life and death.

Confidentiality:

Client-patient confidentiality covers most things, barring (in most states) a threat to self or others, or elder abuse or child abuse. The therapist is required to report those things—and otherwise it’s confidential. Discuss it with them to be sure. Absolute assurance of confidentiality and privacy is why many officers go outside the department for this kind of thing.

Wouldn’t I have to pay for a private therapist?

Probably, but more than likely it would just be a co-pay. But look--perhaps you already pay something for a gym or workout program. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health! If it’s a choice of going or not going, we recommend you do so. The salary of most police officers can handle the co-pay and the mental health return beats the alternatives.

Will I lose my "macho," or "mojo," as a result of going to "touchie-feelie therapy?"

Of course not.  Those who have seen counselors with the serious goal of resolving issues and developing their strengths know therapy is hard work, can be challenging, and isn't for the faint of heart if you want to accomplish something.  The goal is to come out stronger, with a quicker and clearer "warriors edge" than ever.

How do I select a therapist?

First, don't sit around waiting until you can find a "cop doc." It's great if you can find one, but we see too many officers delaying treatment because they can't find a therapist who "already knows about police work." More important than having someone telling they already know what it's like because they're a cop is having a therapist/psychologist who is well trained in handling stress, trauma and PTSD.  Can they "get it" when you talk to them?  That's what matters. 

Ask your peer support officer, or your family doctor—do some shopping. See someone, above all, who is licensed to do therapy. Make sure the therapist is a "good fit" for you--like selecting a doctor for your back, you may want to try more than one.  Listening, interactive skills and expertise are the most important considerations.

It's your own health.

“The thing about denial is that it doesn't feel like denial when it's going on.”

 ― Georgina Kleege


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