DALTON Regardless of whether law enforcement officers or other first responders are protecting and serving a village of 2,000 or a city of 200,000, the many facets of the job takes its toll on individuals.
It’s not unusual for police officers in Dalton and other area communities to respond to calls where they find themselves offering counseling and advice and putting their energies into de-escalating crisis situations. Officers and first responders answer calls to assist and rescue people at their worst and lowest times in their lives. In a small town where everyone is familiar with one another, the stress on first responders may be different than in larger cities.
First responders often say they pursue their line of work to help others. But who helps those whose job is to help others? Who comes to the rescue of those who are weighed down by the demands of the job?
Dalton’s police department is giving attention to making sure officers’ mental health is taken care of. Police Chief Ryan Pearson is spreading the word about the importance of officer training, education, knowing what to look for in themselves and others, and reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems.
A part-time officer on the Dalton police force who has earned his PhD through the University of Akron School of Counseling to become a therapist is offering support and education to officers in the village. Pearson said the initiative, and welcoming Officer Rick Dawson to provide training and to help point people in the right direction when needed, has support from the mayor. Pearson suggests other local first responders such as firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, as well as public servants and community members, also may benefit from being educated about the issue.
Part of the training is to be proactive in identifying signs and knowing when to ask for help. Dawson does not diagnose or treat officers locally – for ethical reasons, he puts on a different hat as a mental health professional for his own separate therapy practice outside of his law enforcement job and does not treat family members, friends or colleagues – but he can offer a list of resources and he can arm officers with the important tool of education to help promote mental wellness and to know what warning signs to look for.
“A huge thing that we recently have seen – not just us but law enforcement in general – is officers’ mental health, and not just police officers but first responders,” Pearson said. “It’s a real thing and it’s a huge thing of officers committing suicide. … We know this is happening. We know that our officers are struggling. Our brothers and sisters are struggling but we never talk about it. … We just pretend it doesn’t exist.”