Growing up, my Grandma Wilma told me I was getting on her nerves. Her statement did not mean a lot to me as a small child, but after 15 years in policing, it resonates with me. You see, what grandma was really telling me was she was experiencing anxiety due to something I was doing.
During a normal year in policing, anxiety and depression are common workplace hazards for law enforcement officers; however, this past year has been anything but normal. Officers have responded to the same type of horrific calls, experiencing loss and trauma at a much higher rate than our non-law enforcement neighbors and friends. In addition to all this, police officers had to navigate COVID concerns and countless other challenges that happened in 2020.
These mounting stressors have created an anxiety rich environment, making officers more susceptible to a post-traumatic stress injury. Police officers are a courageous class. We do not sit around waiting to be a victim. When something goes wrong for one police officer, the rest of us start brainstorming how we can avoid the same danger or problem. We find solutions. We need to approach our mental health in the same manner.
There are many ways for us to effectively manage stress, lower anxieties, and reduce the risk of a post-traumatic stress injury. Some include diet, exercise, medication, hobbies, and prayer/meditation. These tools are all good. In this blog, I want to talk about investing in relationships. Here are five relationships LEO’s can prioritize in 2021.
The most important person in my life is my wife. She gets me. I can tell her anything. She accepts me for all my flaws. She is my number one cheerleader and reminds me how great I can be. She fiercely defends me when others attack. She holds me accountable when my laziness or lack of attention overlook a responsibility.
Everyone needs a person. Someone that you can be vulnerable to, trusting they have your best interest in mind. This might be a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, or parent.
Few things weigh on my mind more than when my children are experiencing problems. I need to know that my kids are safe and healthy. After 20 years of parenting, I have learned the only way to know if my kids are doing well is to carve out time with them. I need to look for activities that they enjoy and find places where they are comfortable to allow space for silliness and deeper conversation.
Recently I discovered that one of my daughters enjoys trying new Starbucks recipes she finds on TikTok®. I have enjoyed our mini-dates to Starbucks and the conversations that happen. Another of my daughters is about to graduate university. I have enjoyed the opportunity to engage in adult conversation and listen to how she processes the world around her.
Brothers and sisters – if you have children, lean into these relationships. Say sorry for past wrongs. Love them unconditionally. Listen to them. Encourage them. Hold them accountable.
Your Work Partners
Our work partnerships have a significant impact on our mental health. When we have trusting relationships, genuinely caring for and being cared for by the people we work with, our stress levels are lower. Law enforcement officers depend on their co-workers, literally with their lives, on a daily basis. These relationships do not come automatically though. Police agencies across our country have become increasingly diverse, reflecting the communities they serve. People from different walks of life; different skin tones, national origins, faiths, political ideologies, and backgrounds serve side-by-side as police officers.
Officers need to lean into these differences and invest time in their co-workers. Go to lunch together. Share a coffee break. Connect on social media. Get your families together off-duty. I have seen the religiously devout connect with the atheist and make great police partnerships. When we center relationships around trust and respect, the differences become a moot point.
Friendships play a critical role in our overall mental health. I appreciate my law enforcement friends, but I also like to have friends outside of law enforcement. I need the reminder that not everyone is either cop or criminal. My various friends work in the business sector, non-profits, government, and faith communities. These relationships keep me grounded.
I remember meeting with a group of friends after an exceptionally tough week. As I sat down with my friends, I honestly did not want to be there. Due to the challenges of the week, I emotionally grouped everyone into one of two categories; cop or non-cop. Thankfully, I trusted these friends. I candidly told them I did not want to be with them, and as illogical as it sounded, I was angry with them. My friends listened, supported me, and helped me move through my emotions. Their response reminded me that the majority of the community support the great work law enforcement officers do every day. And I think I reminded my friends how tough it is to be a police officer.
I have talked with many law enforcement officers about mental health. I have learned that there is still a lot of stigma associated with talking with professional counselors. I understand the hesitation. Cops are guarded on who we trust. The idea of telling a complete stranger my inner thoughts does not sound like a great idea. What if they say something is wrong with me? What if they take my gun and badge?
I have also been on the receiving end of great counselors. People who cared about me and were educated on helping me unpack the things I have seen. I was amazed with the reflection that counseling allowed me. So much so I recently returned to counseling, not because I was struggling with anything, but because I wanted to be proactive in preventing the struggle.
Brothers and sisters – find a counselor you trust. Someone who understands cops. Someone who cares about you as a parent, friend, police officer, and person. I think this could be the second most important relationship in our lives because it makes us better with all the rest.
Wrapping it up
People and events have pushed my nerves this year. I have felt like quitting more times this year than in the previous 14 years combined. As I write articles, encouraging law enforcement officers to lead the change, I have been challenged. Some readers have asked me if I believe that we are the problem. No, I believe we are the solution. I speak to officers on how we can make things better because I believe I can only improve myself. I cannot control the other people.
In 2021 – brothers and sisters – may we focus on our health and relationships. We need to be healthy so we can be available and ready to serve our families and communities. We are the solution.
Grandma – sorry about the nerves. I love you!
About the Author
Detective Sergeant Christopher Littrell has been a law enforcement officer in Washington State since 2005. He has had the opportunity to serve as a patrol officer, gang detective, CISM peer support group counselor, SWAT member, school resource officer, patrol sergeant and detective sergeant. Previously Sergeant Littrell served in the United States Air Force as a Security Forces member and is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He has an MBA from Trident University International.