Mental Health Awareness Month: Wellness Statistics and Resources for Law Enforcement

May is a significant month for the law enforcement profession. Not only do we honor, remember and reflect on the service and sacrifice of our fallen brothers and sisters during national and local Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremonies, but we also take the time to emphasize the importance of law enforcement officers’ and first responders’ mental, physical and emotional well-being in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Observed annually each May since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month was designated by Congress in response to the increased number of World War II veterans suffering from mental illnesses after returning home from the war. The month has continuously evolved over time in its purpose, aiming to shine a spotlight and educate the public on mental health issues that affect tens of millions of people of all ages and backgrounds each year, regardless of whether they served in the military, to reduce the stigma on mental illnesses and encourage those affected by them to seek help when they need it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults (57.8 million people) experienced mental illness in 2021, and one in 20 adults (14.1 million people) experienced serious mental illness during that same year. A 2023 White House proclamation stated that two in five adults reported having anxiety and depression and two in five teens described experiencing persistent sadness or hopelessness, likely attributed to the isolation and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and/or made worse by the effects of social media, bullying, gun violence and other world events.

In law enforcement, studies have shown that officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty and are at a higher risk for suicide than any other profession. The inherent nature of the job requires officers to always be physically and mentally ready to protect and serve their communities no matter the call — and no two calls are the same or routine. From responding to domestic violence incidents to conducting traffic stops to patrolling high-crime areas and confronting armed suspects, officers are placed in dangerous and potentially deadly situations on a daily basis. According to a 2015 survey of nearly 200 law enforcement officers from small and midsize departments, officers witness an average of 188 traumatic and critical incidents during the course of their careers. The constant and repeated exposure to such incidents adds up in a detrimental way. The CDC reports that occupational stress — whether acute or chronic — puts officers at risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal behaviors, insomnia, substance abuse issues and a host of mental health issues.

In March of this year, a report from 1st HELP and the CNA Corporation found that from 2016 to 2022, there were more than 1,200 public safety personnel who died by suicide. The report indicated that the leading causes of many officers’ deaths were related to mental health issues, with depression and PTSD accounting for 34% and 27% of deaths, respectively. “Roughly 23% reported some level of help-seeking behaviors before the officer’s death by suicide,” the report said, per ABC News. “The highest proportion of help-seeking behaviors among public safety personnel was related to seeking treatment for PTSD, a mental health issue known to have a significant correlation with suicidal tendencies. Approximately 17% of officers sought assistance for PTSD, and 7% sought help for any form of mental health treatment.”

These sobering facts and statistics show that, now more than ever, officers need support from their departments and peers and require access to law enforcement wellness programs and competent mental health professionals so that they can manage and cope with the daily stressors of the job in safe and healthy ways. Over the years, LAAPOA has strived to serve as a helpful mental health and wellness resource for our members, not only creating a safe space for members to talk with others about their issues but also raising awareness on PTSD, traumatic stress, officer suicide and more through our periodic educational BOLO e-newsletter articles. We have also worked with our statewide partner PORAC to support legislation and programs that actively try to address mental health in the profession, such as the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act and Public Safety Officer Support Act.

“In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, LAAPOA wants to remind our members and law enforcement community to check in on their mental and physical well-being and that of their colleagues during this emotionally charged month filled with reminders of our brothers and sisters who left us too soon, both on and off duty,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “Our profession has experienced difficult and challenging times over the past few years. Officers across the country have been contending with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, anti-police sentiment from the media and politicians, recruitment and retention challenges, and more, leaving them feeling stressed, burned out and helpless. During these times, we must be our brother’s and sister’s keepers by offering peer support whenever and however we can and encouraging them to seek help before it’s too late. The resources provided here are a great starting point to help put you or your colleagues on the right path.”

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resources

If you’re experiencing emotional distress or thoughts of suicide, or if you have a colleague, friend or family member who is struggling, please know that help is available. Below are some national resources, including many specifically designed for law enforcement, that can give you more information or connect you with assistance. (List courtesy of American Police Beat.)

1st Help: An online database that matches first responders with the help they need.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, plus prevention and crisis resources. Dial 9-8-8 to connect with a crisis counselor.

Blue H.E.L.P.: Honoring the service of those lost to suicide while working to reduce stigma through education and assist officers in their search for healing.

CopLine: A 24/7, 100% confidential helpline for officers and their families, answered by retired police officers. Call (800) 267-5463.

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a live, trained crisis counselor.

First Responder Support Network: Educational treatment programs to promote recovery from stress and critical incidents experienced by first responders and their families.

Safe Call Now: A confidential, comprehensive, 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees, emergency services personnel and their family members nationwide. Call (206) 459-3020.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center — Law Enforcement: Materials, programs, trainings and other suicide prevention information for law enforcement.

VALOR Officer Safety and Wellness Program: The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability (VALOR) Initiative offers resources and education to prevent injuries to officers and improve their health and resilience.

Veterans Crisis Line: Confidential, 24/7 hotline for military veterans to reach caring, qualified responders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, many of them veterans themselves. Dial 9-8-8 and then press 1, or text 838255.