Holding the Line
Mental health support is all about when, not if, you will need it
If we put some thought into what we do on a day-to-day basis as first responders, call takers and dispatchers, dealing with the unknown, the challenging and the horrific, it would be unreasonable to think that we can move forward without some form of mental health care. That might come in the form of self-care, such as meditation, exercise or it might come in the form of some type of therapy, like psychotherapy, psychologist appointments and/or group sessions.
By Michelle Vincent
Regardless of what our mental health regime looks like, it may be time to explore and define what it is we do to look after the piece of us that actual keeps us alive and well.
A few months ago, I wrote about selecting a mental health care provider and how important it is to choose that provider with clarity and care — to make sure you find someone you connect with, that you trust, that you know you can reach out to for that last minute appointment when life becomes challenging.
Understanding the resources that are out there for us is not easy. We talk about them in conferences, training sessions and other educational venues, but typically this is not when we are truly seeking them.
I remember one of the times I was in what I would consider a crisis, attempting to look for the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) number. I thought that was the only help available to me — I hadn’t even considered private therapy from a psychologist. I didn’t even think my crisis was important enough to warrant that kind of support, nor was I aware of our benefit coverage. Now, I understand how invaluable my psychologist is to me, regardless of the extent of my life dilemma.
In this case, about five years ago, I called into our communication centre looking for the contact number, feeling embarrassed and praying that no one would ask me why I wanted the information. The person I spoke with had no idea where to find the EAP number, so I called the front desk and spoke with the operator, as well as the officer whom was working that night. Finally, after some time, we found the number.
Another personal experience of attempting to locate mental health care information was when a colleague from a different police service was in crisis and was seeking mental health support. Attempting to locate the resources for this individual was not only challenging — the length of time it took was unacceptable. In our world, we need to have a clear understanding that, as a result of the nature of our chosen career, the likelihood that we will require mental health support is not a question of if, but when and in what form.
Obtaining the necessary support shouldn’t be that hard. The information should be as prevalent and available as 911 or any other life-saving connection. Let’s think about this for one minute: In your time of need, how life saving was that mental health professional that you connected with? They save lives and give us the tools to be able to cope in times when we are at our lowest. We need to make this information available to all of our law enforcement members, and readily accessible in all of our organizations. They need to be available not only at work, but on the Internet, at home or on-the-go.
So, where is your list? Our police organization has a list of carefully vetted mental health professionals that are proficient and experienced in dealing with first responders that are covered by our benefits — professionals that will take us in last minute, if necessary. We just have to let them know we are first responders and we are prioritized immediately.
If we are not in need of these services ourselves, we may find that a close friend, colleague or family member is in need. Let’s be prepared ahead of time. Have a look for that information before you or your colleague is in crisis. That way, support is just a phone call away.
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy, workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.