There is no shame or stigma for officers in need of counseling

In case you missed it, COVID cannot keep you from counseling. The Psych. Services office is offering Zoom-style telehealth sessions for child, adult, and couple problems. The platform is more secure than Zoom, and you skip the scenic drive to Greenspoint.

I mention this because I would like to see more stressed and miserable cops using mental health services. So would UT Public Health researchers, who recently visited the Dallas Police Department to learn why some of y’all will not go.

When 434 Dallas patrol officers filled out mental health screening tests on their phones, 26 percent of them got mental health diagnoses. The men and women who participated mirrored DPD: Half of those tested were people of color and almost one in five were women. PTSD turned out to be the force’s biggest problem, followed by depression, and then anxiety. You can read the full report by googling, “Mental Illness, Mental Health Care Among Police Officers.”

After taking the tests, a group of officers opened up about their objections to counseling. Their reasons are less obvious than you might think.

Seventeen percent of the group did seek counseling. That means roughly nine percent had problems but didn’t get help. This column is respectfully dedicated to the nine percent trying to keep it together all over Texas.

Reason No. 1: Who, Me?

Some officers stayed away because they did not realize their issues “counted” as a mental health problem. Consider Taylor’s case. He cannot sleep. He has racing thoughts, tightness in his chest, and a weird edginess that will not quit. His girlfriend hides herself in the bedroom with her iPad because he keeps barking at her. Six months ago, she thought he was “The One.” Now she’s not so sure.

Taylor doesn’t know he has an anxiety disorder. For him, it’s just life as a cop.

If your symptoms are thwarting your life goals, such as marriage and a family, you have a mental health problem. If your ways of coping are self-destructive, like substance use or excessive spending, you also have a mental health problem.

By the way, men are famous for not recognizing depression, which has roughly tripled during COVID. It can show up as pessimism, low energy, and anger, without a single tear.

The nonprofit Mental Health America has good screening tests on their heavily trafficked website. Since the pandemic began, eight times the number of previous users are checking themselves with the anxiety quiz. Knowing is better than not knowing.

Reason No. 2: You Cannot Trust the Department

“This place is like a high school,” one of the Dallas officers said. Yup. Men gossip as much as much as women, they just do it faster.

No one wants their personal business to fuel speculation and rumors. Worst-case scenario: officers fear seeing a therapist will ruin their reputations and their careers. I promise you; out-of-control behavior attracts way more attention than a one-hour office visit. People do not face repercussions at work because they go to Psychological Services; they face them because they don’t go.

Still skeptical? Try faith-based counseling, often free, or the confidential HOPA peer assistance program (832-200-3499), sponsored by HPOU. Or swallow the expense of co-pays and get counseling outside of the Department.

Reason No. 3: Shame and Stigma

When interviewed, a significant number of the Dallas officers felt that they should be able to handle problems on their own, and that if they could not, they did not belong in uniform.

Stigma, a.k.a. the belief that problems signify weakness, interferes with reaching out. Never mind others judging you; you are judging yourself. Having an actual, treatable mental health problem feels like a humiliating disgrace. So, you ignore it. You cannot name it, even to yourself.

Perhaps one day treating anxiety and depression will feel as ordinary as treating an infection. We sure are not there yet.

Reason No. 4: Shrinks Do not Get It

One of the Dallas officers was blunt about his view of psychologists: “They’ll look you square in the eye and say, ‘I get it and understand.’ I’ll look at them and go, ‘No you don’t. No, you do not, go back to class, go back to school, go back to where you came from.’”

I do not know what it is like to face someone pulling out a gun-or-is-it-a-phone. Thank God.

I do know a lot about coping with break-ups and other setbacks. I know how to raise kids and stay married, knowledge sometimes picked up the hard way. I have comforted the dying, confronted alcoholics, worked through traumas and helped divorcing spouses tiptoe around each other so they did not ruin the kids. Psychological Services has saved lives. You have your areas of expertise; we have ours.

Take the Risk

Granted, weekly sessions are inconvenient and, in a private practice, expensive. So is divorce. So is screwing up what matters most in life.

Counseling at HPD Psychological Services is completely free and completely confidential, within the limits of Texas law. No one comes in who is not seeking help. You can exit privately through the back door.

In the end, dear nine percent, remember your commitments to those you love. If your life is unraveling and you avoid counseling because of shame or fear or the belief that we have nothing for you—well, wouldn’t it be a damn shame if you were wrong?

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