The New York Police Department is in the midst of a mental health crisis after another officer died by suicide. This latest death brings the total number of suicide deaths at the NYPD up to nine as of August 2019. Since 2014, in New York City, an average of five officers have died by suicide each year. These deaths have prompted commanders to urge despondent officers to seek counseling and help. However, there is a mental health stigma in the department and other barriers that may be preventing officers from getting the help they need.
Mental Health Stigma
Despite strides being made in the community as a whole, there is still shame and stigma surrounding mental illness in the NYPD. Officers who seek mental health counseling are sometimes seen as weak. Officers are expected to handle their issues themselves and not seek help. Bravery and courage are part of being a police officer, and admitting what is seen as a weakness can have a negative influence on one’s appearance among colleagues. Some officers fear their careers will suffer if they seek counseling.
Studies have shown that first responders are more likely to die by suicide than to be killed in the line of duty. Officers should be made to feel comfortable seeking help. They should also receive mandatory counseling after responding to tragic situations or when experiencing an overwhelming life event. The NYPD has had limited success encouraging officers to seek help. Officers have different avenues available to them to seek assistance, including peer counseling, hotlines, and department chaplains. For most officers, however, the idea of vulnerability is incompatible with the image they have of being heroes.
In addition to the stigma surrounding mental health in the NYPD, there are other barriers that prevent officers from receiving the help they need. While there are a number of department resources available to officers, there is clearly not enough anonymous help out there. Officers need a place where they can feel safe and free from judgment when seeking help. Hotlines and chaplains are not enough. Trained counselors available to officers for free would be a more helpful solution.
In addition, the City's insurance makes it difficult for officers to seek mental health care outside of the job. The insurance pays therapists a low fee, and many therapists refuse to take the insurance. Some therapists agree to take the low paying insurance in an effort to help the community, but therapists also need to make a living and can't work with the fees that are offered. The City clearly needs to make sure that all employees have adequate mental health coverage.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.