For decades, police have kept silent about the toll trauma takes on them, their families and their careers. One result is that they have higher suicide rates than the general population. To change that, police departments are turning to nonprofit or state-funded programs that help cops cope by connecting them to their peers and to mental health professionals, Stateline reports. “There’s a much greater awareness of the effects of exposure to traumatic events in just the past five years,” said James Baker of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Many of the nonprofit programs are based on the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) that began in South Carolina 20 years ago. Eric Skidmore, a Presbyterian pastor, launched LEAP with a federal grant and now runs it in partnership with the state police. State taxpayers can check a box to contribute on their income tax forms, and the nonprofit raises additional money from supporters.
Programs like LEAP also offer professional mental health counseling, teach techniques to dispel lingering memories, and even provide massages to relieve tension. Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia have similar programs, and Kentucky is creating one. In Florida, police departments in Miami-Dade and Seminole counties are leaders in providing strong psychological support for officers, Baker said. Cops typically don’t talk about “the horrible things that one human being does to another,” said Gregg Dwyer, a psychiatrist who works with police assistance groups in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. “There’s fear of what it will do to them on the job if they open up. They worry, ‘Who’s going to know? Will it cost me a promotion?’ ” Many police officers are still reluctant to open up. “The ethos of policing is: ‘We’re super-people and we can’t be weak. We’re not a bunch of sissies,’ ” said Prof. John Violanti of the State University of New York at Buffalo. “What they forget is that they’re human.”