Mental Health Support For Law Enforcement and First Responders—The Why and How of Getting Help
Updated: Sep 21
Although anyone can experience a mental illness or struggle with their emotional health at any time, some Americans are at an increased risk of developing mental health challenges.
Law enforcement and first responders struggle more than the general population, with 35% of police officers suffering from PTSD. Law enforcement also reports higher rates of depression, burnout, and anxiety-related mental health conditions.
And yet, most police officers and first responders don’t seek the help they need.
The consequences can be devastating. Not only is productivity negatively affected, which can put the public at risk, but personal relationships can also become strained. Even more seriously, more officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, with one in four police officers admitting that they have had suicidal thoughts.
When mental health challenges are so common among law enforcement, and life-changing consequences are the result, why don’t more officers get the support they need?
Why Is Receiving Mental Health Support So Hard?
Talk of mental health has increased in the news in recent years. It seems like everyone is talking about the importance of maintaining your mental and emotional health.
The result is that more Americans are more open about mental health than ever before. But, that doesn’t mean the stigma is gone completely. Many law enforcement officers and first responders struggle to seek mental health treatment for a few reasons:
It is difficult to recognize when you are experiencing mental health challenges, which means you don’t seek help because you don’t think you have a problem
Privacy concerns about whether a diagnosis and treatment will be kept confidential dissuades some law enforcement professionals from seeking therapy
There’s a belief that mental health professionals don’t understand the challenges of law enforcement, so they won’t be able to help
The belief that if you have to seek mental health support, you are unfit to serve
Accessing mental health services can be difficult too. Officers may have to take time off work, which can be difficult, especially if you have to tell a commanding officer why you’re requesting time off. Cost can also be a barrier, with some officers being unwilling or unable to pay for therapy sessions that can cost as much as $200 a session.
Simple Ways to Get the Mental Health Support You Need
Don’t let roadblocks keep you from getting the mental health support you deserve so you can show up for your family and your community. There are ways you can get the mental health support you need.
First, change your thinking about who therapy is for. It isn’t just for people who have problems. Therapy can provide you with life-changing perspectives that can prevent mental health challenges from developing in the first place, in addition to helping with any existing problems you may have. When you see therapy as a service that’s appropriate for everyone, it can be easier to take the first step and get help. If money or time is the reason stopping you - you can receive the care you need for under $50 with telehealth.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of programs that are available to law enforcement and first responders. With the passing of the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) in 2017, more funding has been made available to law enforcement agencies in order to support efforts to protect the mental health and wellness of employees. Whether it be peer support, training, or family support, there are resources available to you through your workplace.
Finally, don’t automatically assume getting help means taking time off work, scheduling an appointment, and trudging to a clinic. You can receive discrete mental health support with telehealth services, some of which are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without an appointment. You can talk to a licensed mental health care provider from the comfort of your own home without the need to tell anyone you’re getting help until you’re ready.
Don’t feel like you’re less than because you’re struggling with the demands of your job. Mental health support is important for all members of law enforcement and first responders. By putting your mental wellbeing first, you can show up for your friends, your family, and your community.