Police officers in the US deal with the most gruesome, ugly, and terrifying side of humans imaginable. From watching someone take their last breath, to discovering corpses that have been mutilated in ways no sane human could comprehend, police deal with it all. Unfortunately, when these officers deal with the emotionally devastating effects of this trauma, they are often met with resistance, and sometimes even judgement.
Police Chief Scott Silverii should know. When his Thibodaux, Louisiana police officers discovered the mutilated body of wheelchair bound seven year old Jori Lirette last year at the hands of his own father, he knew he needed to help his squad. Officers who responded to the scene, were required to get counseling
“Professionally, there’s that automatic mind set, I have to secure the crime scene. I have to look for evidence. I have to look for witnesses.’ But no matter how well you’re trained, you’re still human.” Silverii says.
Historically, Silverri explains that the attitude was “you see a death or serious injury, you suck it up,”
“That doesn’t cut it.”
Silverri is not alone in thinking that mandatory counseling for police officers after certain traumatic cases is a vitally important idea. Dr. George Everly, a psychologist who creates treatment programs for cops with PTSD, says mandatory counseling would remove the stigma some officers feel when admitting they need help.
“If we understand that we are placing people in a high risk condition for injury, psychological or physical, I think we have an obligation to better prepare them,” Everly said
The more police officers who go public with their struggles, the more likely others are to ask for help. Rick Willards story should encourage others who are struggling to come forward with their issues. Willard was a police officer in Baltimore in 2005, when a man 20 yards away, pulled out a gun and claimed “I’m going to kill you”
A gunfight ensued and Willard shot the man, and watched him die. After the incident, Willard developed severe PTSD. Before seeking help, his depression got so bad, he nearly ended his own life. A talk with a fellow police officer changed his mind. Now Willard speaks out about police PTSD, in an attempt to help other officers who may be struggling. He wants officers to know, asking for help doesn’t mean you’re not strong.
“The mentality in the police department is if you go and see someone and you’re stressed, you’re a weak person. So, how do you go on your own to see someone and expose yourself to ridicule?” Willard asks.
With the stigma surrounding police officers who seek therapy, or other forms of psychological help, it seems real strength comes in admitting you can’t get through it alone. No one should have to suffer in silence, especially not those whose trauma came as a direct result of helping others. Police departments, and officers need to stop perpetuating negative and false stereotypes surrounding officers who seek mental health help. One way to help this process along, is to require mandatory therapy after certain traumatic events. Removing the stigma is the first step in getting police offers with PTSD the help they need.
Emily Manke is an Outreach Coordinator for www.criminaljusticeschoolinfo.com and occasionally blogs for Legal Justice News.