Mental Health Month: Breaking the Stigma within Law Enforcement
Editor's note: In honor of National Mental Health month, we are using this opportunity to shine a light on mental health issues related to law enforcement with a four part series. Supporting Minnesota law enforcement officers and their families is a cornerstone of our mission. A very special thanks to the Backing the Blue Line Family Support Committee leadership for all their work bringing these stories to life, researching mental health issues and gathering resources to share with our community.
It is a difficult conversation to have, but one we need to. Nobody wants to talk about mental health and PTSD, but the stigma won’t go away on its own.
We are here to start that conversation, to remove the stigma because we care. We care about the officers quietly fighting this battle because they think they are alone. We care about the families struggling through this battle they know little to nothing about.
Mahatma Gandhi told us to “Be the change you want to see in the world”. So, for the month of May, The Family Support Committee is hosting a four part blog series this month focusing on mental health. Each week we will give you information and testimonials so you have some tools to start conversations at home with your loved ones and at work with the men and women you serve alongside.
We know what traumatic stress is.
You respond to a call where a child has been brutally injured or killed.
You are called to a mass casualty incident.
You arrive at a scene where you know the victim or they remind you of someone close to you. You probably learned about these in skills or have had some other training in how to deal with these scenarios and feel like you are prepared to handle the aftermath.
So what about effects of cumulative stress and compassion fatigue?
Cumulative stress is all of those “little things” that add up, turning molehills into mountains that we are unable to summit. It is the result of extended exposure to stress. A person can only handle so much before they break. And this is true even our strong, brave, fierce police officers.
You are trained to “slay the dragon”, but not when that dragon lives inside of you.
Compassion fatigue is thought of as the cost of caring without reward. You have given so much of yourself to your department and community and you no longer get anything in return. In dealing with the traumatic stress and cumulative stress, you have nothing left to give. What happens to you then? How does that affect your family and your friends?
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.” - Rachel Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal.
So, what do we do now?
First, we acknowledge it.
When we talk about “it”, we take the power away from “it” and gain control of our life again. We become aware of it and not ashamed of it. Make it okay to ask for help, to talk about it. When someone reaches out for help; extend a hand, or ear or shoulder to them.
Each time you do this, you are breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health and PTSD. That could be one more brother or sister in blue that we don’t lose.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
Speaking from personal experience, it is one of the hardest and most gut wrenching things you can do. But it also brings the greatest reward!
Second, we take action.
In the following weeks, we will give you testimonials and resources for you to use.
Carefully consider the words you read. Do you see what is described in yourself or someone you know?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask someone else if they need to talk.
Remember, you are not in this alone. There are people who care and want to help, more than you realize.
Third, we take care of each other.
Because that is what families do!
About the writer: Melissa has been married for almost 21 years to her best friend, a MN law enforcement officer. They live in Nowthen with their spoiled fur baby Jake. Melissa has been a member of Backing the Blue Line since May of 2015 and has served in her leadership role of Family Support Co-Chair since December 2016. Join Backing the Blue Line: We invite MN police wives/significant others to become members of Backing the Blue Line to take advantage of all available membership benefits and have additional opportunities to give and receive support. We also invite MN police wives/significant other to join our private Facebook page to belong to a community of support through friendships, networking, and discussion. It is also for raising awareness of the need to support our unique lives and share the bond that comes with being a law enforcement family. Find out more on our About page.