Opinion: Greater support for our first responders

Mike Mueller
Detroit firefighters battle a blaze in a three-story  apartment building at Linwood and Oakman on Detroit's west side in below-freezing temperatures Wednesday, February 20, 2019.

Our law enforcement officers work tirelessly to keep us safe and maintain peace in our hometowns and across Michigan. They are brave and selfless men and women, but they face an incredible risk we must address.

The suicide rate for law enforcement professionals is the second-highest of any profession. Last year, more officers died by suicide than in the line of duty. Our first responders are exposed regularly to human suffering, violence, exhausting schedules and extreme stress. Post-traumatic stress and physical exhaustion can take a dangerous toll, and it does not go away on its own.

As a former police officer, I’ve seen the toll that officer stress takes on agencies – increased absence, turnover and performance decline such as slow reaction time, poor decision-making and increases in conduct violations. When untreated, mental health deficits can impact the ability an officer has to protect his or her community.

It’s incredibly disappointing that just 3-5 percent of law enforcement agencies have any sort of mental health support or training for their officers. Especially when we consider that approximately 30 percent of police officers experience post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. We must expand mental health services to first responders and do all we can to prevent life-threatening consequences.

Peer support groups, 24-hour available counseling, new officer training and ensured confidentiality are essential to help first responders combat mental health struggles.

We must also break the stigma surrounding mental health care that prevents officers from seeking the help they desperately need. Many officers fear losing their jobs or feel that they are weak if they admit they need help. The need for mental health care is not a sign of weakness. It is a biological medical condition that requires professional intervention.

In the coming months, I’ll be meeting with law enforcement and psychology experts to hear their recommendations and develop a plan to implement training procedures, identify mental health risks and make more resources available to first responders who need help.

I ran for office for many reasons, but changing the laws surrounding mental health care for first responders and law enforcement is among my top priorities. It’s the least we can do for the brave men and women who keep us safe every day.

Mike Mueller, R-Linden, represents the 51st House district in the Michigan House of Representatives.