SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office is committed to supporting the safety and well-being of its staff and first responders throughout Sweetwater County.
So the Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with Rock Springs Police Department and Green River Police Department, is pleased to announce the creation of a joint peer support program designed to provide mental health awareness and support for local officers, first responders and their families.
“I campaigned, in part, to do more to support the mental health of our first responders,” said Sheriff John Grossnickle. “A career in law enforcement often carries with it a stressful lifestyle. These effects can add up over time.”
“The psychological health of our first responders has a direct impact on the quality of service that we provide to the community,” Grossnickle continued. “This program is about preventative maintenance, and the team’s goal is to help fellow officers alleviate these stressors, at work and in life, as they present themselves and before it’s too late.”
Resiliency Is Perishable
“Our police officers are some of the most resilient people on the planet,” said Nayi Partridge, Director of Resilience, Training and Business Development for the Partridge Psychological Group, of Salt Lake City, Utah, which specializes in psychological services for public safety professionals.
“Police departments make a significant investment in identifying and selecting the most mentally and emotionally resilient individuals as part of their hiring process. The job demands it,” Partridge added. “But, it doesn’t stop there. Helping our officers to manage the mental pressures of the job requires ongoing support.”
Like many other job-related skills, resilience is perishable, and fostering and maintaining healthy coping mechanisms over time necessitates continued training, refinement and renewal, Partridge continued.
Suicide Rates Higher Among First Responders
Recent research suggests the suicide rate among first responders is as much as 30% to 50% higher than that of the general population. According to Blue H.E.L.P., a nationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to honoring the service of law enforcement officers who die by suicide, to date in 2019, 192 officers have died by suicide compared to 102 in the line of duty.
Sheriff’s Office Public Relations Officer Deputy Jason Mower said, “For at least the last four years, more law enforcement officers and emergency first responders across this country have died by their own hand than in the line of duty. It’s an outrageous trend.”
Mower suspects the total number is probably even higher, but many discrepancies occur in the collection and reporting of these data.
“We’re not superheroes, and the job is dangerous enough as it is,” Mower added. “Losing one of our own in this way is devastating for those left behind, and the aftermath can destroy a law enforcement agency from the inside out.”
Mower believes peer support is a step in the right direction, a value-added resource in law enforcement’s perennial struggle with the historical stigma surrounding officer mental health and wellness.
“Whether some elect to believe it or not, most of us chose this career because we want to help people and serve others. Yet, some of the things we’re forced to see and deal with aren’t normal everyday things for most people,” Mower continued. “What’s more is that this job literally requires more continued education and training than many other professionals need to do their jobs.
Mower said that at times, first responders are asked to be equal parts psychologist, pharmacologist, teacher, referee, caregiver, lawyer, emergency and medical technician.
“And sometimes we play all of these roles during a single shift,” he said. “So, needing or asking for help in processing and finding perspective on some of these stressors and traumas we face is perfectly normal, healthy even. ‘Suck it up’ or ‘rub some dirt on it’ isn’t good enough anymore; it’s caustic. We’re all humans first, cops second.”
Informal and Private Resource
The peer support program represents an informal and private mental wellness and support resource, available around the clock, to assist officers and other first responders who are dealing with job-related stress, life-changing circumstance, or who have been exposed to a critical incident.
The team will also serve as an information clearinghouse to help guide officers and first responders in seeking out available resources. The team is led by a steering committee that includes a coordinator from each of the three participating agencies and a clinical liaison, and its membership will consist of a mixture of officers and deputies from each agency.
Clinical oversight for the team is provided by Partridge Psychological Group. As the steering committee continues to grow the team internally and coordinate upcoming certification training, the program is expected to be operational by the end of the year.