Protecting the mental health of police officers is top priority

- FILE - Connecticut State Police (WTNH)

(WTNH) — This week is National Police Week. Those who have fallen in the line of duty are being remembered.

In Connecticut, law enforcement is also recognizing the officers working through the tough stuff they see every day.

News 8 anchor Scott McDonnell takes a closer look at how protecting the mental health of police is a top priority.

Horrific car accidents, dangerous domestic disputes and officer involved shootings.

“Officers see traumatic events daily, whether you see a small town or big city.”

The life of police officers and first responders can take a heavy emotional toll.

“Traditionally, it would be getting together at the bar, having a session or beer or alcohol to decompress,” said Lt. Christopher Tursi of the Fairfield Police Department.

Everyday encounters that may not lead to physical injuries, but leave behind damaging unseen wounds.

“We never look inside and ask when our officers are in crisis. We never ask each other, ‘are we okay?” Tursi said.

Some events are so devastating that a new approach to mental health was needed.

“In the State of Connecticut, specifically after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Association really took a look at the wellness of our officers. We didn’t want to see any officers hurt themselves or deteriorate where they could not function in our communities,” said Chief Gary Macnamara of the Fairfield Police Department.

It’s a challenge where behind the blue thin line, feelings are guarded.

“Depression or anxiety, there is a stigma in police culture,” according to Tursi.

Now there’s a coordinated effort to change that.

“It could go very badly. There is a lot we are going to cover throughout this course,” an officer said to a class.

27 police officers from across Connecticut are being trained in mental health first aid.

“More prepared to handle their own emotions as well as the emotions of their fellow officers.”

Learning how to recognize and deal with someone who is struggling by not judging, but listening.

“Their job now is to go out and provide that training to the community, but also every single recruit that grads from the Police Academy and every police officer that is currently on the job,” said Macnamara.

Making sure officers are well so they can serve the community well. In the process, they are spearheading a cultural shift in police departments across Connecticut.

“It will become the norm instead of the exception, to seek help if you need it,” said Tursi.

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