SILVER SPRING—The death of Montgomery County Police (MCP) Officer Thomas J. Bomba on Oct.14 has shed new light on the stress that police and first responders alike face in their daily duties.

“Law enforcement officers respond to and witness some of the most tragic events that happen in our communities,” wrote the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “On the job stress can have a significant impact on their physical and mental well-being, which can accumulate over the course of a career.”

While many officers struggle with alcohol abuse, post traumatic stress, depression and other challenges, there are county resources and local organizations in the area that offer support for law enforcement and members of the community.

According to NAMI, on average, more police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty. However, the causes of suicide are often complex and should not be attributed to one traumatic incident or loss.

There are almost always multiple causes, which can include psychiatric illness that may have not been recognized or treated, lack of support or a traumatic event, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Risk of suicide also can come with multiple warning signs.

“Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased or seems related to a painful event, loss or change,” wrote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The increased use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly, withdrawal from relationships and verbally expressing wanting to die are all clear warning signs, among others.

Rick Goodale, who serves as a spokesperson for MCP, noted that there are resources for officers within the department.

“(For instance) the Peer Support Team (PST) is a group consisting of sworn and civilian police department employees who have been trained in crisis intervention. The team is under the direction and supervision of the Stress Management Division (SMD),” he said. “The group receives training to include suicide awareness and recognizing the signs and symptoms of someone who may be at risk of or contemplating suicide.”

Goodale also explained that Montgomery County Police provides confidential mental health support, which is available to all department employees and their immediate families for personal and work-related problems.

“The psychologist (of this team) is dedicated strictly to working with MCP employees (and their families),” he said.

In Montgomery County and nationally, there are also resources that help prevent suicide and provide support. For instance, the local chapter of NAMI in the county offers resources.

EveryMind, located in Rockville, also offers a host of resources and support tools for the community. Jennifer Grinnell is the division director for Adult & Family Services, and Rachel Larkin serves as  Director of Crisis Prevention & Intervention at EveryMind.

The organization offers a hotline that residents can call or text for supportive listening and to be connected to resources. The hotline also offers crisis intervention as needed.

The Sentinel spoke with Grinnell and Larkin to learn more about mental health and how members of the community can support law enforcement.

What advice do you give police officers and first responders who deal with stressful situations in their jobs to stay mentally healthy?

“There can be a tremendous amount of vicarious trauma in this field.  ‘Vicarious trauma’ is defined as the emotional residue of exposure to others’ stories of traumatic events and witnessing the pain, fear and terror that trauma survivors have endured.

“Some advice would be to talk openly with a coworker or supervisor, to create a consistent work-to-home transition that creates a boundary and safe space. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat well and get some healthy movement in every day.  EveryMind also recommends to honor time that is designated for something enjoyable and unrelated to work; this means giving yourself permission to engage in downtime. Make sure to maintain your routines in your day-to-day life that are predictable and soothing.

“It is also important to seek professional help when it is needed, and EveryMind can help provide these resources.”

If someone is hesitant to reach out for help, be it a law enforcement officer or a member of the community, what are some tactics you suggest to guide that person toward seeking help?

“People who are struggling with substance misuse or mental health concerns will often keep their struggles to themselves.  They may be feeling guilty, ashamed or embarrassed about what they are experiencing. But if someone is concerned about another they think may need support, they should simply ask.

“Ask the question. Be direct, open and non-judgmental. The question can be as simple as, “‘Are you okay?’ Or, if more prompting is necessary, the question can be more specific.  “I’ve noticed lately you seem {sad, distant, unhappy, angry}, and that’s unusual for you. Are you okay?’ The more specific and non-judgmental you can be, the more likely it is that you will get an honest and open answer.  After that first question, you need to keep asking.

“Calling/texting/chatting with the hotline is a great option, as this is confidential and anonymous and can be done 24 hours a day.”

How can families and friends of officers be supportive when their loved one has had a hard day or a hard case?

“Ask them about it and be prepared to listen. As a listener, it is important to remember that you don’t need to fix the situation or try to solve it.  The focus is to allow the officer sharing the hard day or hard case to just talk about it in a safe and non-judgmental space. Point out when they are not themselves – not in a shaming way but in a time to take care of yourself.”

Larkin and Grinnell explained that Montgomery County has a number of resources designed to prevent suicide. However, there is more that can be done. For instance, “currently, the text/chat services (on the hotline) are funded at only 12 hours per day.  Phone is 24/7 but we miss nearly 1,000 calls, text and chats each month due to inadequate funding to staff the services appropriately.  More funding to the Crisis Center and staffing for coverage (is needed.)”

They went on to explain that Montgomery County could also provide more education and discussion about mental health and suicide in schools and workplaces, along with requiring mental health professionals to get additional training in suicide prevention and intervention.

Resources for help are provided here:

EveryMind’s Montgomery County Hotline, phone, text, chat: 301-738-2255

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ (Chat)

Montgomery County Crisis Center: 240-777-4000

National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-273-8255


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