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Need For Police EAP Programs

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Posted On: September 28, 2002          Updated On: September 28, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

The Need For Police EAP Programs
By Terence T. Gorski
September 28. 2002

There is a desperate need to provide credible and effective employee assistance programs (EAP's) to our nation's police officers.  The police are a critical component in our national network of emergency first responders.  Police officers and the personnel who support them provide critical safety sensitive functions that needed at all levels of government.  Its important to value the efforts of these professionals and recognize the stress and sufferring that they endure in the course of protecting us all.  Most importantly, we need to commit resources to prevent, mitigate, and properly manage the personal problems that result from a career of exposure to traumatic stress.

Each year many officers are killed in the line of duty.  Most leave grieving family members behind.  Many more officers are killed by a second wave of deaths related to the police profession - suicide.  Each year many current and former officers choose to end their lives because the pain of dealing with the memories of past trauma is too much for them to handle.  Sometimes the immediate trigger for the suicide is obvious.  There is an immediate critical incident that pushes the officer over the edge.  The death of State Trooper Mark Zack tells such a story.  

Most of the time, however, there is no dramatic moment of truth.  The chronic stress and trauma of a career can harden officers.  They disconnect from their feelings, their values, their very sense of self.  They continue to function on the job.  Often they are outstanding officers, but something is missing.  Their humanity has been slowly eroded by the continuous low grade stressors of police work and the periodic eruption of major incidents causing traumatic stress.  

This slow build-up of pain and sufferring has collateral damage.  Many marriages are destroyed.  Vital relationships with friends and family members are lost.  Many officers turn to alcohol or other mood altering drugs to try and manage the pain.  Others just suffer in silence behind the stoic mask that they are taught to wear as part of their profession.

At some point, and most officers who attempt suicide are exactly sure when, the buildup of stress, pain, and isolation becomes too much to bear.  Some small or even trivial event pushes them into hopelessness and they try to end their lives.

In retirement the accumulated pain of a life-time police stress can become unbearable.  An isolated life made sane by intense career involvement can become a desperate trap of loneliness after retirement.  Alcoholism and prescription drug addiction can spiral out of control.  In this tomb of isolation many officers choose to quietly end it all.  These quit suicides behind the scenes mark an unheralded sacrifice made in the line of duty.

The death of every police officer should signal the need for all police departments to place a renewed emphasis on their Employee Assistance Programs.  It should teach us an important lesson - that we need to work harder to create a police culture that encourages officers to get help in times of trauma and stress.  

As addiction and mental health professionals, stories like that State Trooper Mark Zack should cause us to recommit ourselves to the task of making sure that all police officers in all departments around the country have access to credible and effective employee assistance services.  

We can't wait for a tragic incident to send us into action.  Preparation is the key to reducing damage related traumatic events.  We need to be sure that all officers and their families are prepared by advanced training to deal with the traumatic events that are a routine part of their lives.

<Read The Story of Officer Mark Zach>

The Need Is Now
 Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Terry Gorski and The CENAPS Corporation
Can Help Police Departments Develop Credible and Effective EAP Programs

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