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Lack of Self-Care: Growing Concern Among MO Law Enforcement

A 2016 study found slightly more officers died of suicide in the United States than those killed by gunfire and traffic accidents combined. (Franz/Pixabay)
A 2016 study found slightly more officers died of suicide in the United States than those killed by gunfire and traffic accidents combined. (Franz/Pixabay)
August 8, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As the Missouri law-enforcement community mourns the death of a Clinton officer killed in the line of duty, there's a concern being quietly voiced about the lack of self-care for officers whose mental wellness is put at risk every day.

Dr. Olivia Johnson, the founder of the Blue Wall Institute, says officers throughout the state are under pressure to respond to criticism of police tactics while also dealing with the life-threatening nature of their jobs. What's more, she says, many officers hesitate to admit what they're feeling.

"They're afraid that if they go tell someone that they may be having thoughts of suicide or of self-harm or suicidal ideation, based on the fact that they haven't been dealing with the stress and trauma that they've seen on the job, they're afraid of losing their careers, their jobs, their badges and the trust of their peers," she explains.

Thirty-seven-year-old Gary Michael was shot and killed Sunday night during a traffic stop in Clinton. Johnson says events like that send shockwaves through the law-enforcement community. Johnson says officers also continue to deal with perception problems and fallout after the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson and the resulting protests.

Johnson says officers and the community in general, need to acknowledge that the number-one killer of police is suicide and that training to recognize early signs of stress and trauma is a must.

Johnson, a former officer, says police departments tend to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to mental wellness. She says she began getting more calls from spouses and partners of officers when the Ferguson crisis began.

"Talking about issues of excessive alcohol abuse, possible domestic violence in the home, even threats of self-harm but didn't want to go anywhere else because they were afraid of costing this person their job, possibly - and that's still going on," she says.

Johnson says officers in the academy should be trained on all the risk factors of the job so they can recognize the symptoms of trauma and understand that they're neither a weak or bad person.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - MO