Last week I discussed Wellness – physical, emotional, psychological – as an officer safety issue. The question we ended with is how do we, as a community of law enforcement trainers, address this critical issue.Where do we as a profession start?
We start with asking What’s Important Now? And What’s Important Now is that each of us take responsibility. It starts with you. It starts with every trainer, and everyone in the profession making a commitment to wellness; your own wellness as well as the wellness of your brother and sister officers. It starts with talking about these important issues and acknowledging that there is a problem. It is only when we acknowledge the problem and begin to take ownership that we can begin to work together and move forward to address the issues.
The next step is to break down the silos within our training academies and training sections. Wellness is not just the domain of the fitness trainers, some nutritionist you bring in to speak to officers or psychological services. Wellness is an issue that must be addressed in ever area of training. The message must be continually reinforced throughout an academy and through every block of inservice training you deliver, regardless of the topic.
As a profession we are slowly breaking down the stigma associated to PTSD and mental health issues, but we need to do more. Officers need to understand that it is a sign of strength and courage to ask for, and get the help they need when they are experiencing operational stress injuries. Bob Delaney, a former New Jersey State Trooper, NBA referee and the author of Covert and Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope Through Post Traumatic Stress, talks about the need to address post traumatic stress before it becomes a disorder. Bob recommends peer to peer counselling as a highly effective strategy for officers. He suggests you find someone who has been through something similar and talk to them. Understand that you may be experiencing different emotions or issues but, talking to someone who has had a similar experience can be very helpful. Many law enforcement professions in North America work for small agencies, or work in rural locations. As a result they may have difficulty in finding other law enforcement professionals who have similar experiences to talk to. That ‘peer’ does not have to be another cop. It can be another first responder (fire or EMS) or a military veteran. This suggestion is not meant to suggest officers not seek professional help.
In addition to treatment strategies you need to ensure you are teaching prevention strategies starting in basic training. This means including training on mental health, stress management skills, functional fitness, nutrition for shift workers and resiliency into both academy and in-service training and sell it for what it is – Officer Safety.
The last few years have seen a number of highly respected and courageous members of the law enforcement community step forward and share their personal battles with PTSD and mental health issues and share the strategies they used on their journey to wellness. These stories are critical in allowing officers who are struggling to realize that he or she is not alone and not the only ones dealing with these issues.
As a profession we need to stop making excuses about how hard it is to work out when you work long shifts and have family and other commitments before and after work. I get that it is hard. I understand it is a challenge. I also know that the price for those excuses is to high for us to continue to make them. The great thing about function strength and fitness training is that it can be done with little or no equipment (body weight training), in limited space and in reasonably short amount of time. Trainers need to make sure they show officers how to work out effectively with little or no equipment, in limited space and limited time. Trainers also need to stop using fitness (pushups, sprints, squat thrusts, etc) as a punishment for perceived wrong doings in training. You cannot punish officers with pushups, then tell them they are a great way to work out.
It is also time to stop making excuses about how hard it is to eat healthy when you work shifts. You all know officers who show up to work every day with their cooler packed with healthy and nutritious foods for the shift. We need to stop making fun of them and model their behaviors. It is hard, but it is possible. It takes some planning and some effort. The benefits far outweigh any difficulties.
We need to make a commitment to our brother and sister officers and have Courageous Conversations. When you see a fellow officer struggling or you notice a change in their behaviour after a call, or you notice they seem to be drinking far more that normal or having relationship issues you have an obligation to have a courageous conversations with them. Those conversations can start with telling them what you have observed, letting them know that you care too much about them and their family to ignore what you are observing and asking what you can do to help.
Officers also need to make a commitment to family. This is more than just saying “I will go home to my family at the end of the shift.” You need to make family a priority throughout your career and make your wellness a priority so you can go home to your family at the end of the shift, the end of the week, the end of the career. Tt is not enough to go home to your family however, if when you are at home you are not well, you are tired, stressed, angry or depressed.
In order for officers to buy into all these strategies you need to get them to reflect on their ‘WHY’. Why is it important to them to engage in these healthy behaviors. That why might be their spouse or significant other, their children, or yet to be born children, their grandchildren, their retirement years, their favorite hobbies or activities or their favorite pet. It is not up to you to figure out their why, it is up to you to encourage them to discover it and embrace it as motivation to change.
It is not enough to survive a career. You need to help officers thrive during and after their careers. You need to inspire them to focus on What’s Important Now and Dare to Be Great in every aspect of their life.
This is too important for us to continue to talk about these issues in hushed tones and think of people who are struggling as weak.
You owe it to yourself, your family, your peers and the profession to invest in your wellness.
Wellness is an Officer Safety issue.
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