When we hear about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) we think of men and women recently back from battle zones around the globe. Yet there are people suffering from PTSD right here at home with repercussions for those sworn to protect and serve our communities — our local police.

A serious issue within law enforcement, mental health disorders aren’t necessarily limited to any specific race, gender or socio-economic class. One in four people will be impacted by mental illness.

In our society, there is an extra stigma attached to police officers that often prevent them from seeking the treatment they need.

By the very nature of their job, police officers are routinely exposed to extraordinary stressors. The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority meets regularly with such local law enforcement agencies as the Detroit Police Department, Wayne County Sheriff Office, Wayne Police Chiefs Association and Airport Authority Police, building relationships in order to better serve and support them.

We are also working on establishing community mental health crisis mobilization teams so our first responders are better equipped to arrive on a scene where a mental health consumer may be in distress.

The stressful and often traumatic situations that police officers encounter on a regular basis needs to be addressed for their overall well-being as well as to help their families understand the complexities of what the officer is bringing home.

“Too frequently, the solution is to use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs to address the daily accumulated stress and anxiety. Unfortunately for many who don’t receive treatment, family members are often collateral damage. Unhealthy coping strategies limit the availability of an officer to engage meaningfully with children or significant others, or build and maintain other important relationships” said Dr. Carmen McIntyre, chief medical officer of DWMHA.

Mental health services are available to support law enforcement personnel who are experiencing professional, personal, emotional or behavioral problems that may impact their job performance. These include self-initiated requests, department referrals, employee assistance programs or community mental health workers trained to work with law enforcement officers. All services are provided on demand and in a strictly confidential fashion.

Mental health issues also affect officers’ limitations in understanding the behaviors of individuals with a mental illness within the communities they serve. Far too many of our police officers lack the depth of knowledge necessary to assess and handle situations involving people with mental illnesses.

DWMHA has offered free 8-hour mental health first aid training courses for the last 18 months, training nearly 4,000 people including police officers, clergy, school counselors and every day citizens. The courses are designed to teach citizens methods of assisting someone in the early stages of a mental health challenge or in a mental health crisis and offer knowledge on depression, anxiety,trauma, psychosis and psychotic and substance use disorders including risk factors and warning signs.

Often, stigma or shame prevents people from seeking treatment. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and support, people with mental illness do recover and live meaningful lives. Without understanding however, it is impossible to accept and handle situations involving mental illness in a healthy manner.

DWMHA will continue to engage and partner with law enforcement agencies to better equip the men and women who protect and serve the citizens of Wayne County.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health services, contact the DWMHA 24-hour helpline at 800-241-4949.

Tom Watkins is president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

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