The Officer Wellness Imperative
Officers do an incredible job saving the lives of strangers, but we need to do a much better job saving the lives of officers
Law enforcement professionals respond to emergencies, size up life-and-death situations within seconds (often split seconds), and act decisively when the stakes could not be higher. In doing so, officers carry out the noblest of missions – the saving of lives – and this takes place continuously, without pause, every day.
Think about it: Right now at this moment, somewhere, an officer is in the process of saving a life.
Officers do an incredible job saving the lives of strangers, but law enforcement needs to do a much better job saving the lives of officers. While officers enter their careers possessing strong physical and mental health, the stress can stack up quickly with severe consequences: shortened life spans punctuated by heart disease, depression, post-traumatic stress, relationship problems, lack of sleep and thoughts of wanting to die. In other words, we train officers to save the lives of others, but not their own lives. The need for change is urgent: Last year’s officers were nearly five times more likely to die by suicide than by being shot and killed by a criminal.
Start by prioritizing your own wellness today, right now, with the understanding that your survival depends upon it. No one else can do that for you.
Stay strongly connected with your loved ones, eat a healthy diet, prioritize your sleep and pursue a hobby that makes you feel happy and relaxed. Practice gratitude, exercise regularly, and enjoy moments of solitude and tranquility. If you are struggling, consider reaching out to peer support, a chaplain, a law enforcement therapist, or a trusted friend who “gets it.”
If you’re hesitant to take good care of yourself, then consider that the difference between growing stronger in the face of adversity and being torn apart by it often comes down to recovery. People can deal with enormous stress if they have a chance to rest and heal at intervals, but without rest and recovery, stress destroys us all over time. Let’s not allow that to happen to one more officer.
Let’s take a stand, beginning today, and make officer wellness a critical imperative. The best time to start is right now, and the best place to start is with you. So, what are you waiting for?
This article was originally published in Police1.com.
About Dr. David Black
David Black, Ph.D. is the CEO of Cordico, serving hundreds of public safety agencies nationally. Dr. Black is a Board Member of the National Sheriffs’ Association Psychological Services Group, serves as the Chair of Technology and Social Media, is an Advisory Board Member for the National Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Police Psychological Services Ethics Committee, serves on the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Officer Wellness Committee, serves on the California Police Chiefs’ Association Human Behind the Badge Committee, is an Officer Wellness subject matter expert for the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), and earlier served on IACP Police Psychological Services committees tasked with updating the standards for fitness-for-duty examinations and officer-involved shootings. Cordico is partnered with the California State Firefighters’ Association (CSFA) to strengthen firefighter mental health and well-being. Dr. Black has been serving first responders since 2002.