Holding the Line
Foundational components of mental wellness in policing organizations
July 26, 2022 By Michelle Vincent
Is your policing organization full of mental wellness? Is this even possible? The answers to these questions may not be available at our fingertips; however, some simple foundational pieces to support this concept of mental wellness are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have some sort of an understanding and pathway to an overall, mentally healthy organization?
If we begin by exploring factors that we, as members, have control over in making this difference, we open a dialogue of true change. Change comes from within—from each member who chooses to contribute to the mental wellness or toxicity of each unit/platoon of the organization.
We begin with these questions: what choices, when we look within, are we most likely contributing to? Do we come for shift with a vision of how we might make a difference at work, at home, in our communities?
It is so easy to get caught up in the “let’s get them first” mentality. Whether that supports our intent to get the call done, the investigation done, or to outsmart a criminal as we lay a trail of leads with an understanding that this is what criminal activity they are participating in. Maybe we have experienced so much in our careers that we truly believe the world is a bad place. No matter what that experience is, we still have the choice or opportunity to perceive our workplace/platoon/unit as a family rather than as the people and crimes we are investigating.
There is a clear understanding that the dynamic, ever-changing and evolving culture in policing organizations exists and that it may be one of the most powerful contributors to the existence—or not—of mental wellness. When we explore relationships of any kind, there are certain themes that continuously emerge. Those themes are: feeling valued, cohesion, teamwork, a safe space in which to be, and the communication piece of positive language.
Change comes from within—from each member who chooses to contribute to the mental wellness or toxicity of each unit/platoon of the organization.
I recently embarked on a facilitator’s course for the Writer’s Collective of Canada, which provides a voice for those who may not always have one to be heard. One of their six presiding guidelines is the use of positive language when addressing a piece or identifying what was impactful; no negative comments are part of this work. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand the feeling of safety, free expression with no fear of reprisal, feeling valued for my piece regardless of its composition, cohesion in the intention of this group, and the teamwork of reviewing a piece as we explored what was good and/or impactful.
What if we were to abide by this guideline of positive language when communicating as leaders and teammates? What impact might this have on the above-mentioned components of feeling valued, safe and the cohesion of teamwork as we explore, debrief and come in for an evaluation?
I know one thing for sure; you get more of what you think about, whether you like it or not. This is where the choice comes in: the choice to create a shift in how we experience our platoon, unit, entire organization. Would it hurt to give it a try? What happens if correction needs to be made? Could we come up with a thought that provides the solution rather than the focus on the problem?
As a hypothetical example, say we messed up a domestic call and breached procedure. We didn’t do it on purpose; we were distracted from our own challenging domestic situation that clouded our minds. The leader of this platoon could say, “I wonder how we might handle this domestic differently, given the suspect returned to the residence and we didn’t have a safety plan documented.” Instead of chastising the police officer, we might have them come up with their own thoughts. Because let’s face it, we all know when we have messed up. Whether it is in the moment or in court. Having a team supporting what we could do better supports mental health wellness.
Michelle Vincent PhD/MACP is a retired officer and the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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