Former Ohio police officer and EMT Rich Alvarez is giving back to the law enforcement community through a mental health initiative designed to assist retired officers struggling withPTSD.
Alvarez, who was diagnosed with PTSD and has struggled with mental health issues, decided to found the Peacekeeper Initiative to support his compatriots in law enforcement in the greater Tampa Bay area in Florida.
“We hope to allow them to express their frustration. They have somebody they can talk to and do an activity that allows them to relax, be outside and enjoy themselves,” Alvarez explained.
The organization offers wellness activities and peer mentorship to both law enforcement and military veterans.
Alvarez said the idea to start the initiative was rooted in his own struggles with mental health, the catalyst being when he was diagnosed with PTSD.
“I was told by my boss never to speak about that again, instead of ‘Do you need any help?’ I found that suck-it-up mentality was pretty pervasive in the law enforcement community,” Alvarez said.
From then on, Alvarez sought to assist others within the law enforcement community by promoting inner peace and well-being. “Whatever relieves your stress is what we want to do,” he said.
Twenty-two-year NYPD veteran Mike Abolafia touted the benefits of the program.
Throughout his long career, Abolafia has gone through a lot.
While he found fulfillment in helping those in need while on patrol, his last encounter on the job left him with a traumatic brain injury and forced him into retirement.
Reflecting on his career, Abolafia shared: “It does add up, and it’s cumulative, and there is no one to talk to about it.”
Abolafia, among others, has found solace in the services offered by the Peacekeeper Initiative since retiring.
Another unique element to the Peacekeeper Initiative is that it encourages officers to take up various activities based on their individual preferences. For instance, the initiative has recommended activities such as fishing or scuba diving to officers.
For Abolafia, a conversation over a cup of coffee was all that was needed. “When you meet somebody that’s done that and has been through the same thing you have, you just met somebody you can talk to,” he said.
Abolafia has endured the consequences of PTSD, including the dissolution of his marriage and limited mobility due to physical injuries. Nevertheless, his outlook remains positive. “Every day is a blessing. The Initiative has given me a chance to meet other officers that have survived things a lot worse than me. It’s a great recovery system,” he shared.