The Foxborough, Massachusetts, Police Department is offering mental health resources for its officers to make sure they get the help they need when they need it.
Foxborough Sergeant Valesay Collins told The Foxboro Reporter that many officers have difficulty maintaining their own well-being.
“The culture within law enforcement certainly fed into that. We are the ones that are called to help others,” Collins said. “The thought was that we don’t need anyone to help us. What makes things difficult is once you’ve handled the call for assistance your right back in the mix. There’s very little time during a shift to process a traumatic call. Those calls can stay with you.”
To address officers’ mental health, Foxborough police are joining with the Metro Crisis Incident Stress Management Peer Support Team, which provides various resources for police officers.
“More officers understand that by taking care of our mental health, we can obtain a positive work–life balance,” Collins said.
According to Collins, the program offers peer-to-peer support, a feature of many mental health programs used by law enforcement agencies across the country.
“Officers can have a chance to sit with a peer to talk about how they feel. We’ve found that the peer-to-peer model has very positive outcomes,” Collins explained.
Officers deal with chronic stress that stems from constant exposure to emergency situations and working long shifts.
“We have a front-row seat to life and a lot of times what we see is negative. It’s hard to explain that to someone who hasn’t experienced it. That’s why peer support can be so important. The person you’re talking to gets it,” Collins said.
The department has also started other initiatives aimed at improving mental health, such as giving officers more time during debriefing for talking and interacting with one another.
In addition, the Massachusetts Police Training Council has increased training focusing on mental health.
For example, Foxborough police said most of its officers have received crisis intervention training.
Collins added that the department is also encouraging mental and physical fitness with step challenges.
Collins said according to research, the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among law enforcement officers ranges anywhere from 7% to 20%. Officers are also at a higher risk of developing depression, sleep disorders and anxiety disorder. One study found 25% of law enforcement participants reported having suicidal thoughts compared to 13.5% of civilian participants.
“There are many different studies, however, the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection is working to collect data to better understand and prevent suicides among current and former law enforcement officers, corrections, dispatchers, judges, and prosecutors with current numbers not released yet,” Collins said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also took its toll on mental health in law enforcement, but the upshot has been greater awareness of the issue.
“I feel that the stress of working during COVID was discussed among officers. The concern of contracting COVID due to our constant exposure to the public was a common conversation,” Collins said. “I think there have been more discussions about mental health overall in society since the pandemic and there has been more education and effort to destigmatize mental health not only for the individual but for families with a loved one who may be struggling.”