Every day, law enforcement officers get into uniform and step into situations that test not only their training and skills, but also their mental and emotional fortitude. But their bravery and service take a toll.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But officers won’t talk to just anybody about the challenges they face. They want to communicate with peers who’ve walked in their shoes and understand what they’re going through.
Choosing the right peer supporters
A peer supporter is not just a friendly face or a good listener. They are the front line in dealing with the emotional challenges officers face. The journey to emotional support for law enforcement largely depends on the effectiveness of their peer supporters, making it crucial to have the right individuals in these roles.
The ideal peer supporter embodies a unique blend of skills, experiences, and attributes. They provide valuable emotional support for law enforcement by creating an environment of trust and mutual understanding.
In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics and training that make a good peer supporter and how to build an effective peer support team.
Attributes of an effective peer support team
A personal commitment to wellness
Peer supporters who demonstrate a personal commitment to their physical and emotional health build trust when sharing resources and advice. They lead by example. By actively engaging in self-care practices, they serve as role models and success stories for fellow officers.
Their wellness routine may include a balanced diet, regular physical exercise, mindfulness techniques, sleep strategies, and hobbies that help them destress. Demonstrating a personal commitment to wellness sets a powerful example for colleagues and helps spread a culture of self-care within the law enforcement community.
Empathy and active listening
Every good peer supporter has the ability to listen without judgment and demonstrate empathy. These skills form the cornerstone of trust and understanding and help reduce the stigma associated with seeking support.
Active listening helps peer supporters create a safe, non-threatening environment, encouraging officers to express their emotions, fears, and concerns. It's through empathetic listening that peer supporters can validate their colleagues' feelings and help them feel understood.
An understanding of mental health challenges
Peer supporters should have a solid understanding of mental health issues and the terminology involved. More specifically, they should understand common mental health challenges faced by law enforcement, like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Understanding these issues is an important part of law enforcement peer support training and helps supporters provide empathetic and informed assistance. By combining their job experience with an understanding of mental health, peer supporters can better connect with colleagues and help them navigate challenges in an effective way.
Continual education in mental health
Just as law enforcement tactics evolve, so do strategies for managing mental health. Providing emotional support for law enforcement requires peer supporters to keep up with current best practices. This means continual education on mental health topics.
This could involve:
- Attending workshops and seminars, like the Mental Health First Aid course offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health
- Participating in courses focused on mental health awareness
- Training on suicide prevention, resilience building, and trauma support
With needs, tools, and strategies constantly evolving, it’s important peer supporters stay current to offer the best police support.
Relevant peer support training
Providing emotional support for law enforcement requires both police peer support training and understanding the specific challenges of being an officer. Courses like Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) or Mental Health First Aid go beyond basic knowledge of mental health issues and provide peer supporters with practical skills to effectively help their colleagues.
These advanced courses are critical components of officer wellness training because they teach peer supporters how to assess an individual’s mental health needs, offer immediate support and reassurance, and guide them to appropriate professional help.
Knowledge of available resources
A peer supporter should be a guide, well-versed in resources within and outside the agency. These can include outside resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), mental health professionals, police support groups, community organizations, and more.
Peer supporters should be intimately familiar with all available agency resources. Part of providing police support is the ability to guide officers toward appropriate resources based on their individual needs. These early interventions can help officers get help before issues spiral into more significant problems.
Collaboration with mental health professionals
Part of law enforcement peer support training is recognizing that peer support is a powerful tool, but it has limitations. The most effective peer supporters understand their role is not to replace professional mental health services but supplement them.
Providing emotional support for law enforcement is a partnership between peer supporters and mental health professionals, and a good peer supporter will recognize when a colleague’s needs surpass their ability to help. To do so requires humility, the ability to collaborate effectively, and regular communication with mental health experts to understand best practices.
Offer different ranks and years of experience
A complete peer support team should be as diverse as the officers they serve. It should include individuals of different ranks and varying years of service and provide a variety of perspectives that can cater to the needs of different officers.
Law enforcement peer support training is a continual journey. Officers with years of experience understand the job and can impart self-care wisdom that leads to career longevity. Officers with less experience can provide the option to connect with someone of a similar rank that isn’t a buddy or supervisor. By offering a well-rounded network of peer supporters, you can make sure every officer has the chance to connect and get help.
How we can help
One challenge many agency leaders face is the reluctance of officers to engage with resources and peer support in their own agencies. The fear of judgment or consequences prevents officers from getting help. Our comprehensive wellness app PowerLine can help.
PowerLine provides officers anonymous access to a nationwide network of vetted peer volunteers across all ranks. It also offers a comprehensive content library your officers can access anonymously at any time.
Built to integrate with your wellness program, PowerLine lets you upload existing wellness resources directly into the app. We believe the support officers receive should be as robust as the challenges they face and that together we can reduce the stigma associated with seeking support. Let's build a healthier and more productive law enforcement community.
Learn more about PowerLine here or schedule a free consultation with a friendly PowerDMS team member using the button below.