If your agency has a peer support team, you know how valuable it can be as a way to ensure officers and staff are connected with when they need reassurance, guidance and connection to more formal mental health, physical or emotional support. While calling a hotline, texting a peer supporter or pressing a button on an app are important reactive methods to put in place for an officer looking to connect with peer support, a peer team lead, coordinator or clinician overseeing the team needs to ensure that proactive measures are also in place. Having scheduled check-ins and ensuring smooth coordination and communication among the peer support team are important parts of a proactive program. If the reactive and proactive side are taken care of, that should be it, right? However, there is another aspect of care that needs to be considered that has both reactive and proactive elements to it: the follow-up. This article will look at how a department’s peer support team can respond and continue to provide care after an incident or contact request where a member(s) of the peer team was deployed.
In a study referenced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in its research bulletin “First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma,” it was reported that “… about three-fourths of the surveyed officers reported having experienced a traumatic event, but less than half of them had told their agency about it. Additionally, about half of the officers reported personally knowing one or more law enforcement officers who changed after experiencing a traumatic event, and about half reported knowing an officer in their agency or another agency who had committed suicide.”Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2018). “First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma.” Supplemental Research Bulletin. … Continue reading
We’ve all been there: a critical incident occurs and your peer team springs into action, making sure that each individual involved receives the support they require. After the dust settles, though, it is important to have a strategy in place that considers the long-term implications and needs of those affected. This is where policies and procedures related to follow-up contacts and check-ins need to be in place. Our team employs an app and peer support management system that assists us in easily scheduling and completing these follow-ups, but if you do not have such a system in place, it is still important to use whatever tools you have at your disposal (spreadsheets, team leads, etc.) to coordinate your team and stay on top of things.
The needs of each officer to have a touch point with the peer support team vary based on a large and complex number of factors, such as personality, previous exposures, family and personal influences, medical and mental health history, and so on. It should not be assumed that every individual needs to be set up on the same follow-up schedule, so people need to have some autonomy over when the peer support team will next contact them, and even by which members they’ll be connected with. It should be considered whether a follow-up connection should happen in a day, a week or potentially even on the anniversary of a particular event or significant date. Again, we have developed and put a system in place that allows for these nuances and preferences, but whether you run a traditional peer team that is paper- or spreadsheet-based or use a purpose-built system for it, it is important to keep these factors in mind.
When a peer supporter meets with an officer, it should be standard SOP that they consider whether or not this person would benefit from additional monitoring or follow-up check-ins. The peer supporter can ask the person something like, “Is it OK if I follow up with you in X number of days?” While it can be comforting for the affected person to know the peer team has met and been engaged with them, it can be discouraging and potentially even more damaging to find that the appropriate systems are not in place to encourage and ensure that people are not forgotten about after their initial contact(s).
This feeling of abandonment can also be especially true not only for active employees, but in recently retired members, who are adjusting to a new way of life as a civilian after turning in their badge. A study titled “Resilience in Retired Police Officers” sheds light into some of the concerns faced by retired officers, saying: “… we speculate that one reason that [non-traumatic routing work stressors] are so strongly associated with poor resilience is that work-related stress may alienate the officer from his or her preferred sources of support: his or her peers and supervisors. Many officers believe that they can share their experiences only with other law enforcement professionals, but a conflict arises when the police organization itself is the source of the stress. Keeping work-related matters secret from family and friends may undermine resilience for similar reasons. Such a choice can quickly lead to social isolation and may reduce the number of opportunities that the officer has to discuss duty-related critical incidents and other stressors.”Pole, N., Kulkarni, M., Bernstein, A. & Kaufmann, G. (2006). “Resilience in Retired Police Officers.” Traumatology (Vol. 12, No. 3). Retrieved from tinyurl.com/267zm7mx.
Retired members may feel that they cannot relate or share their feelings with people outside of law enforcement, so it should be the effort of each department and peer support team to either provide this support themselves or work to connect their retired colleagues with appropriate third-party support groups and services.
For these reasons, it is critical to have a multifaceted approach to wellness and peer support and to provide continued access to resources and care for your members that considers their schedules and needs, keeping in mind both our active and retired colleagues.
As seen in the September 2022 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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|1||Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2018). “First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma.” Supplemental Research Bulletin. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/waptexy2.|
|2||Pole, N., Kulkarni, M., Bernstein, A. & Kaufmann, G. (2006). “Resilience in Retired Police Officers.” Traumatology (Vol. 12, No. 3). Retrieved from tinyurl.com/267zm7mx.|