Holding the Line
It is your last night shift and the queue is full. You had court between your nights and your four-month old is trying to figure out that night time is for sleeping not crying. To top it off, your spouse snaps about the lack of financial means to look after the overflow of bills. Your anxiety levels are high and the coffee and $5 Chinese food special is churning in your gut as you try to fit yet another paid duty in to bring financial relief. A recent call you attended haunts you; voices echo in your mind and visions replay over and over. You contemplate going home sick so you can have a few drinks to take the edge off but you know you will have to listen to your spouse go on about how you are doing nothing to help with the house and kids.
When we ponder the significant events that have occurred nationwide in our policing family —from the shooting of our members in Onanole, Man. and Fredericton, N.B., to our Ontario Provincial Police officers who have died by suicide — we have to ask ourselves what we are doing as a society to support the surviving members.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
A routine call is rarely “routine.” Every call we attend as police officers has us fully engaged. When the call is intense, we can be so immersed at times our physiological responses could cause us to lose vital information that might help us successfully navigate the call.
As police officers, our actions in the name of public safety are scrutinized under a microscope. We use too much force, or not enough. We took our time getting to a call or we rushed and caused an accident. Our investigation was fraught with error or we over-analyzed the situation, causing us to experience confirmation bias.
The word resilience has been a buzzword in the world of policing for several years now and its essential role in our successful mental health and wellbeing also makes it known as a top-notch performer. Resilience is infused in our training programs, such as Road 2 Mental Readiness, and is heavily promoted as our recruits begin their journey as first responders.
Our firearms as police officers are significant pieces of our culture and what we do. It is hard at times not to allow it to define us, especially when it is unexpectedly removed after an incident involving a shooting for example. What is the message we receive when, after having discharged our firearm in an incident, we are ushered into a room, secluded and stripped of our firearm? There is good reason for this of course, as the firearm that was used may need to be tested and forensically investigated, but the experience and chronology of its removal can be very challenging.
Progress — that unstoppable, onward movement. It doesn’t come without a few bumps in the road. Progress guarantees change and that can be challenging in the workplace, especially in an industry with a long history like law enforcement.
Although I believe we have improved significantly when we look at how we address time off at work, I feel we still have a long way to go in how we ascribe value to it and manage it as individuals. Time off is integral in the world of policing but there is an unspoken word amongst us officers that we must be justifiably ill in order to take a sick day.
When we hear the word “court,” as police officers, what comes to mind? Evidence, defence lawyers, notes, the stand, the stress of presenting, responsibility, anxiety, frustration, final accountability… There is a myriad of words that come rushing in. Yet once the case is over and the anxiety and other emotions we experience that cause us stress are through, what happens to us from the human element?
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.
I normally encourage people to look for the positive in order to achieve their goals, whether it’s at work or at home. When we look for something, we always find it, the mind makes it so. This is why it is so important to be selective in what we entertain from a mental perspective.
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