Police officers address mental health

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)— Most people are aware that police cadets undergo intense physical training in the police academy– but there’s another part of training that is often forgotten and just as important.

Law enforcement has started paying more attention to officers’ mental health.

Here in Richmond County, officers are tearing down the stigma that they can’t ask for help.

“They did not want to pull the trigger… and it tears them up inside that they had to take someone’s life,” Sgt. David James told NewsChannel 6.

Officer’s are often not prepared to deal with the mental reality of their jobs.

“You take a lot of this stuff in. A lot of this cumulative stress and traumatic events– the death that you see, the worst of people, the worst of situations. If you take that in, and you don’t talk about it, you just hold it under water, eventually it’s going to be exposed,” Patrick Cullinan with the Police Benevolent Association said.

It was after Sgt. David James was shot in the line of duty that he realized he wanted to share his experience and help other officers who have been through hard times.

In 2013, he and a Georgia state trooper started the first peer group for Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

“They’re all passionate about it because they know what they’ve gone through, so they’re wanting to be there for the officers that have never been through something like this and help them out,” Sgt. James said.

“Hearing his personal story and what happened to him, and him being willing to tell us the mistakes he made, that has a big impact. A lot of people don’t want to admit their mistakes,” Cadet Jim Bowles said.

Now, cadets in Richmond County are required to take a mental survival class while in the academy.

Patrick Cullinan explained this was unheard of before 2010. He said in the past, asking for help was a sign of weakness. but that’s all changed..

“We started stepping up to the plate and saying ‘hey, we’ve been involved in situations like this, we had issues that arose, but we sought help, and now we’re doing so much better as a result of it.’ It’s not just saving officer’s lives– it’s saving marriages, it’s saving careers. It’s really benefiting the law enforcement community,” Cullinan concluded.

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