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Mental Health within Law Enforcement

August 19, 2021

Law enforcement officers are both a part of the community they serve and the government protecting that community. While protecting our community, officers of the Kissimmee Police Department and surrounding agencies are exposed to traumatic calls on a daily basis. Being witness to child abuse, domestic violence, death, and other stressors may lead to the development of mental illness.

Chief Jeffrey O’Dell and the Kissimmee Police Department have worked to develop an interagency system to support its staff and the community when it comes to dealing with mental health.

How does KPD prioritize mental health within the department?

In 2019, there was an abundance of officer suicides across the law enforcement profession. At this point, the department knew that something preventative had to be done. A study by Healio found in a survey of 434 police officers that 12% reported a lifetime mental health diagnosis, 26% had positive screening results for current mental illness symptoms, and 17% had sought mental health care services in the last 12 months. So how could the Kissimmee Police Department help its officers deal with regular exposure to traumatizing stressors and events?

By providing fitness and nutrition training, information about where to go for mental health assistance, and attending classes for officer stress and suicide, the department’s goal is to provide a healthy environment in a stressful field of work.

Mental health is not only a priority for officers within the department but all staff. For example, dispatchers are the first to speak with victims. Working to keep them calm until help arrives is also stressful.

What resources are available to Kissimmee Police Department staff?

  • Cigna has recognized the importance of mental health for first responders and is helping law enforcement to get immediate assistance after traumatizing events. This service is for officers and their families because they understand that work doesn’t always stay at work.
  • UCF Restores is a government-funded program that allows law enforcement officers who are diagnosed with PTSD to be unplugged from their daily duties so they can be treated and learn to cope with the experiences.
  • Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) is a seven-step, small group, supportive intervention process that is used to debrief those involved after high-stress situations to provide officers the ability to discuss what they experienced and provide closure.

Peer programs are available within the department but are not as popular because of the stigma surrounding mental health. KPD hopes to help break stigma by allowing officers who need assistance to get the help they need to live a mentally healthy life.

What is the department's role when it comes to mental health in the community?

The Kissimmee Police Department provides Crisis Intervention Training for officers, providing information for officers so they are better able to serve the community, including how to handle instances involving residents with mental illnesses.

  • Baker Act if someone is a danger to themself or others
  • Arrest with a notation of mental illness
  • Autism awareness class raising awareness surrounding the disability and how to best approach situations involving residents

The department also provides youth mental health training, which is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or is in crisis. The course introduces:

  • Common mental health challenges for youth
  • Reviews typical adolescent development
  • Teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations including anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders

Why is mental health an overall priority as the Kissimmee Police Department sees it?

The department realizes that making mental health a priority and understanding how to carry-out calls involving those with mental illnesses will make for a healthier environment for the whole community.

  • By training staff to take care of themselves, they will best perform to serve the community
  • By being informed on how to best deal with society and understanding the difference between a criminal and someone with a mental illness who is taking action based on a crisis, officers are able to deescalate a situation if possible

Chief Jeffrey O’Dell stated, “The issues surrounding mental health, both in our community and among our personnel, are a priority for the Kissimmee Police Department. Through training specifically dealing with persons in a mental health crisis, we have become better in our response as law enforcement officers. We have a much better understanding of identifying those situations and, in doing so, are in a better position to calm the situation. We have progressed to find avenues to get the person the treatment necessary versus situations that may have resulted in an arrest years ago. We have also developed personnel wellness initiatives inside the agency that provides support to our personnel as well as avenues available to get them any assistance necessary.”

The Check-In Project and Kissimmee Police Department share a common goal of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in the community. You can help by taking the pledge to check-in with at least one friend or family member each month.

Email: info@thecheckinproject.ORG// Phone: 407-870-4897