Anne Arundel Bolsters Mental Health Resources for Police Officers

Nationally acclaimed mental health and resilience trainer spends time with Anne Arundel County Police Department for Mental Health Awareness Week.

For National Mental Health Awareness Week, the Anne Arundel County Police Department (AACPD) hosted Dr. Jeff Thompson for a training session on mental health and resilience. If police and correctional officers are going to be able to protect and care for others who have experienced a traumatic event, they must also be able to do the same for themselves. Unresolved first, second, and third-hand trauma that they experience on the job leads to lower life expectancy and increased levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

This particular training session done with the AACPD is run by an individual who not just believes in the value of the work but has lived it himself. As a former NYPD detective, hostage negotiator, and the department’s first-ever mental health and wellness coordinator, Dr. Thompson’s experience in law enforcement has informed his work at Columbia University where he is a researcher and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. His training sessions and workshops, like the one last week in Anne Arundel, focuses on resilience, mental health, leadership, suicide pre/postvention, and crisis communication. As recently as this past summer, Dr Thompson held a training session for the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association at their annual conference.

In the last couple years police reform has been a major policy initiative across Maryland as the implementation of legislation passed in 2021 continues to come online. While much of the initial focus had been on the public experience with officers, more discussions are now being had around effective policies that can support the officers who do the job. A report issued in Montgomery County last year cited a number of concerning statistics as their local Office of Legislative Oversight analysed their own existing policies and mental health support for officers.

  • Police officers are 2.5 times more likely to die by suicide than to die in the line of duty.
  • 85% of first responders surveyed reported mental health symptoms.
  • Police officers witness 188 trauma-involved critical incidents over their careers, on average.
  • Fire and EMS personnel contemplate suicide at rates 10 times higher than all adults.
  • Police officers have a 54% greater risk of dying by suicide compared to American workers in general.

In May of this year the U.S. Department of Justice in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report with detailed findings that very closely mirror the Montgomery County report. Major takeaways were the need to:

  • Eliminate stigma surrounding mental health and other barriers to help-seeking.
  • Demonstrate leadership and prioritize psychological health and well-being.
  • Utilize policy to advance health and well-being.
  • Strengthen protections against stressors, trauma, and negative health outcomes.

With workforce shortages and lower recruitment and retention numbers for police departments generally, policymakers in Maryland will likely continue looking at ways to support these professionals, particularly while reform has been top of mind for a couple years now.