Holding the Line
Non-profit resources for officers: no need to reinvent the wheel
By Michelle Vincent
In the world of policing, the stress our members experience is unlike that of any other profession. As such, mental health is a prominent aspect we all have to consider in this line of work.
I am not sure what other profession out there expects their members to protect their communities, in the worst of scenarios, by taking a life in order to save other lives, and then expects that same police officer to then again save the life (on another level) that was intended to be taken. It takes a very special person to manage a riot and follow that up by providing mediation and mental health support in the next moment, all the while in uniform.
Whether the officer has been exposed to extremes in a specific unit, or simply in the day-to-day of frontline and investigative activity involving many horrors most of us would never even consider dealing with, the fact remains the likelihood of mental health issues in this profession from sworn to civilian members is high.
With the alarming rising number of police officers dying by suicide, there is a lot of pressure to relieve and reduce those numbers through mental health resources and solutions. While discussing personal experiences can be valuable in that it allows others not to feel alone, especially those with stories containing a positive outcome, seeking and developing effective resources for our members will come when we focus on the solution, not the problem.
Mental health resources for first responders and civilian members are discussed repeatedly from a preventative and reactive perspective, and yet palpably implementing these resources is where we need to be going.
There appear to be two foundational options when exploring these mental health resources. We have private and non-profit organizations, and each serve an essential piece in our wellbeing.
Generally speaking, the private sector has one goal: to provide excellent service that will support its customers while profiting. When an organization has this approach, the overall focus is in the area of profit and not in the area of programming. While these kinds of organizations are an excellent option for those who have the financial resources, there remains a gap in providing services to everyone.
I would like to suggest that reinventing the wheel is not necessary here; we simply need to explore those more cost-efficient resources, for example: non-profits. Perhaps we need to redirect our focus on the existing non-profits that are working diligently already, often with active and/or retired police members as leaders. These are leaders who have walked in the very same shoes of those their organizations are seeking to assist: first responders in desperate need of mental health support.
Let’s identify existing models that have demonstrated their effectiveness for first responders’ mental health and fund them to grow, as well as provide support for those who research effective methods.
If we provided funding to these existing non-profits in the ways funding is provided to researchers of the same vein, our members would have more immediate resources on hand for them. These non-profits would further demonstrate their commitment to first responder wellness with action because they are already in the business of providing care. They have the space, they’re open, they understand urgency — let’s give existing models and non-profits an opportunity to become more occupational-specific and better serve first responders.
Michelle Vincent is a 17-year York Regional Police officer with a master of arts in counselling psychology and a background in equine-assisted therapy, workplace reintegration after a critical incident and long-term leave, as well as teaching. She is in the process of implementing the first non-profit treatment centre that will be occupationally specific for first responders and is working towards her PhD in Forensic Psychology/Crisis Response. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.