Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Dum Spiro Spero

In my line of work the mental and physical requirements far outweigh the standard.

In the beginning we have a physical fitness test of our abilities in the academy.  We pass the physical abilities test in the hiring process. Then we are handed layers of gear and left unsupervised to maintain our physical fitness for duty.  In most agencies there's no annual requirement.

In the beginning we have written tests, scenarios and a basic background check for the academy.  We have to pass a more in depth background check, psychological evaluation, and polygraph in the hiring process.  Then we are handed layers of responsibilities and left unsupervised to maintain our mental fitness for duty. There's no annual check up.

In the beginning of a traumatic event such as a line of duty death, officer involved shooting, or a call for service that didn't end well for a victim, we have an agency critical incident team who checks in to see if anyone needs anything.  Then we're cleared for duty and back on the front lines unsupervised with the delayed stress, post traumatic response, and new stressors that add to an already fragile mental state.

In the beginning we're conditioned to suck it up because "how bad do you want it" becomes a motto that soon becomes a mantra to suppress the demons that are growing in a dormant part of the mind.  Like all things dormant, they're just sleeping, waiting for the one small pebble that will make them erupt.

In the military physical fitness was part of the daily routine, but mental health issues were taboo.  There were 'debriefs' for the hell many of us faced overseas which consisted of being spoken to, not heard.  Our uniforms were pressed to perfection, creases that could cut like a knife, arm sleeves rolled to measure, boots shined to reflect.  But our spirit was crinkled, our hearts broken from the loss of our brothers and sisters, internal wounds of the horrors and evils of war that scab over but never seem to fully heal.

The current number of veteran suicides a day averages 22.  In 2018 alone, law enforcement suicides outnumbered line of duty deaths.

Mental health is just as important as physical health in our profession.  Working long shifts, being on rotations that are inconsistent with family life, sitting for long periods in a car, wearing an extra 25-30 lbs of gear for hours, all with the propensity of violent attacks, spontaneous sprints, and random climbing over fences or up a side of a balcony to deal with a call for service requires more than just being physically fit.

There's a saying we heard in boot camp and years later in the law enforcement academy that we often take for granted: "Your body won't go where your mind's never been."  As important as it is to train our bodies for the unexpected, we also need to train our minds.  Under stress we fall to our basic level of training, and if our minds are not prepared for the violence, the injuries, and how to survive, then chances are we won't.

I'm saying it again in all caps so y'all remember this: MENTAL HEALTH IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS PHYSICAL HEALTH.  Self-care is being self-aware.  Take time for yourself, find a healthy outlet for your stress, be honest with yourself about your mental/physical/spiritual health.

This topic can longer be taboo.   The reality is that we are losing our brothers and sisters to an invisible enemy because we're embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid to talk about mental health in our profession.  The first responders only come first to help others.  Always putting ourselves last, and for some too late.

As a veteran, a first responder, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend, I'm here.  As we live and breathe, there is hope for healing.  Please don't hesitate to reach out if you need help:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Law Enforcement Suicide Awareness

December 2020 article: “From our experience, white males make up the greatest percentage of those committing suicide, followed by African Am...