New program in the Midlands aims to change stigma of mental health for law enforcement

New program in the Midlands aims to change stigma of mental health for law enforcement

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One organization in the Midlands is rolling out a new program to change the stigma of mental health for law enforcement and giving officers an easier path to getting help.

The name of the program is FLOW, which stands for Family Life and Officer Wellness. The Post Trauma Resources manager, Jamine Leslie, said this program comes in the wake of a local law enforcement officer committing suicide two years ago.

One national survey found that, in 2018, more law enforcement officers died by suicide than the total number of line-of-duty deaths.

Post Trauma Resources currently provides counseling for local law enforcement, including the Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, but they want to provide more immediate resources for officers.

“People either come to us by self-referral or their department refers them,” Nicholas Lind, Post Trauma Resources clinical psychologist, said. “They aren’t suicidal, but they are definitely getting there so we are able to intervene and prevent that final common pathway.”

The program aims to eliminate the barriers for officers looking for mental health resources by putting a counselor right in the agency’s office.

“Part of the component of this FLOW program is to create a new culture,” Leslie said, “to create a situation where it’s considered the same thing as getting your yearly physical.”

The first counselor Post Trauma Resources has recruited for the program worked on the front lines of law enforcement for over a decade before entering social work. Leslie said that this will give the counselor the ability to connect with the officers and their experiences.

“To find an opportunity to talk to someone who really understands what it’s like to be on the front line and be in a situation that is potentially life-threatening and experience things that are absolutely traumatic and to do that over and over again is something that a lot of us cannot even imagine,” Leslie said.

One survey found that over 75 percent of officers believe their job causes emotional issues. Further, 90 percent felt there was a stigma around getting help.

“It’s a situation where asking for help isn’t always seen as the strength that it is. It’s very often seen as a sign of weakness,” Leslie said.

This counselor will provide an immediate response to personal and professional stresses officers may experience.

“When people feel comfortable talking about their stresses and they can intervene earlier and there is an open dialogue,” Lind said. “A lot of times, the defensiveness leads to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance program currently offers PTSD awareness training and can assist an agency if an officer is injured or dies.

Leslie said the cost of a law enforcement agency implementing the FLOW program costs less than having one officer leave the profession.

The Post Trauma Resources began reaching out to local law enforcement agencies in the midlands this week about FLOW and hopes to get the program rolling at the beginning of 2020.

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