CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Murder, theft, car accident or fire, police officers are usually right there by your side when tragedy strikes.
“You know the common saying among law enforcement is the worst 20 minutes of your life is when they’re going to be there with you. They’re going to interact with people when it’s the very worst time,” says Dr. David Englert, the Operational Psychologist for CMPD.
Dr. Englert oversees the mental health of officers. He was hired four years ago by the Mecklenburg County Health Department to be proactive with officers who deal the emotional toll their job can bring.
“Most of my folks they’ll see a dead body every day or some kind of tragedy every day, and then they’ll have deal with a lot, and then they’ll have to go the next call and deal with something completely different,” says Dr. Englert.
New studies show that police suicides have been on the rise for the past three years, with 160 in 2018. That’s the triple the rate of officers killed in the line of duty.
“There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder and stress-related symptoms,” says Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea, the Executive Director of Presbyterian Psychological Services, a non-profit that has partnered with CMPD to treat officers in need.
“The awareness has risen.. and police departments across the country are paying more attention and emphasizing that mental health is every bit as important as physical,” says Ms. Frawley O’Dea.
“A little child is with their parents and they say oh that officer is going to arrest you if you don’t behave that crushes them a little bit that day they don’t children to be afraid of them,” says Dr. Englert.
Relationship issues, family or other job-related challenges affect first responders just like all normal people, but, most first responders will point to finances as the number one issue that causes problems.
“Sleep deprivation, they may have trouble sleeping, they may have nightmares, sometimes some degree of substance abuse, depression anger that they don’t know what to do with across the spectrum of PTSD, we help them manage their stress. Talking is important, just the act of talking is healing.
Also deep breathing techniques are taught, and the journaling of memories to overcome the anxiety or trigger they bring.
“You know mental health issues are common, lots of people have them and it’s not a weakness or a sign of incompetence,” says Ms. Frawley O’Dea.
Dr. Englert says his door is always open for any officer in need, “we’re very fortunate that CMPD has not had a suicide in many years. We are trying to focus on the problems that lead people to that bad decision.”
If you’d like to give your support to Presbyterian Psychological Services or CMPD’s mental health unit, there will be a 5K run and fun walk Saturday, Nov. 23rd at Sycamore Brewing starting at 9 am. Click here for more information.