Axon puts family at the heart of its mental health campaign

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Sponsored by Axon

By Margarita Birnbaum for Police1 BrandFocus

Shortly after Christmas 2014, Jennifer Brown was tasked with editing footage of the fatal shooting of a police officer investigating a domestic violence incident. Brown had to review the body camera video to edit footage that could not be made public, including the patrolman’s final moments. Memories of this experience make her cry again.

Axon launched its Axon Aid: Wellness program, a collection of peer videos and other resources, to help officers and their families cope with the realities of work and provide tools for better mental health.

Axon launched its Axon Aid: Wellness program, a collection of peer videos and other resources, to help officers and their families cope with the realities of work and provide tools for better mental health. (Getty)

But Brown, communications and information systems manager for the Flagstaff Police Department in Arizona, says she shared those memories in a mental health campaign designed to help encourage people who work in the forces of the United States. order, including other record custodians, to seek counseling services when they feel their work is overwhelming.

“There must be someone who always reminds employees and their families that there is help, that we are going through some kind of pain,” she said. “It allows us to be our very best.”

These are some of the messages at the heart of Axon Aid: well-being, the campaign created by Axon Aid, the philanthropic division of Axon. The program features videos and other resources featuring law enforcement professionals sharing their stories in hopes of sparking important conversations in police families across the country.

For the project, Axon Aid’s production team interviewed hundreds of people in the law enforcement community, including public safety personnel and their families, says Isabella Giannini, senior loyalty manager. customers at Axon. They also spoke with psychologists familiar with the responsibilities and challenges specific to the professions of patrol officers, detectives and other sworn and civilian personnel.

WORRYING TRENDS IN MENTAL HEALTH

Law enforcement officials are aware of disturbing trends of poor mental health among their sworn and civilian personnel. Academic research in the United States and other countries has hinted at this for at least 10 years.

For example, the results of a study of American police officers suggested that they were almost twice as likely to live with depression compared to their peers in the general population, in part because many do not get enough sleep, are regularly exposed to violence, and face unique organizational stressors. The results of a recent study examining the prevalence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in a Canadian law enforcement agency suggest that 26% of civilian and sworn officers who participated were diagnosed with a mental illness.

And that was before the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down. Shortly after shelter-in-place orders began across the United States, public safety agencies flooded Axon Aid with requests for the provision of mental health resources in addition to masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. they provided to help retain officers and civilian employees. safe from the coronavirus, says Giannini.

ANSWER THE CALL

Within months, she and her colleagues began laying the groundwork for Axon Aid: Wellness by speaking to agents in agencies, large and small, rural and urban, about their work and their attitudes toward mental health screening and treatment.

They also spoke to immediate family members of law enforcement employees to learn how their loved ones’ work can affect their personal relationships. Additionally, they consulted with law enforcement psychologists and other experts who could share practical, proven tips to help public safety personnel manage stress, maintain a better work-life balance, and nurture meaningful relationships with family and friends.

“It really opened our eyes to a lot of difficulties that police face, internalized and brought home, and then what it does to their families,” Giannini said. “I think people, including family members, forget that yes, they are responding to a call to serve, but they are people with different stress management skills and different personal backgrounds.”

UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES

Understanding the challenges and motivations of LEOs and their families was a key objective when building the program. For example, some law enforcement employees said that even when they knew they needed advice, they did not ask for it because they feared it would have a negative impact on their career. . Among police officers, those who appeared to have more severe symptoms of mental illness were the most reluctant to seek help.

Many public safety personnel also shared that part of the stress they felt was due to feeling misunderstood by loved ones, especially those who did not work in the same field. Meanwhile, family members expressed that their loved ones were withdrawn, irritable and unnecessarily vigilant, among other things.

Giannini says she and the other project participants realized they needed to create a program to help tackle mental health and that these peer stories could be powerful tools. The hope is that by listening to the experiences of their peers in the law enforcement field, as well as the advice of experts, law enforcement employees and their families can benefit in many ways. , including

  • Better understand their needs and expectations.
  • Facilitate communication.
  • Learn to navigate more effectively through difficult times.

FAMILIES NEED HELP TOO

Because family members play a vital role in supporting loved ones through good times and bad, Giannini says it’s important that law enforcement encourage counseling and put education resources into action. mental health available to the spouses, children, parents and even siblings of their employees. Although highly motivated to help loved ones, many lack the tools to provide the most effective support.

Brown, Flagstaff’s systems information manager, agrees and says that while family members play a huge role in supporting law enforcement, a disconnect often exists between law enforcement professionals. public safety and their families, usually due to misunderstandings and a lack of open communication.

A family member may try to find ways to get in touch with and help their loved one, but this can often be too much for that person to handle. This is especially true when the person in charge of law enforcement chooses not to share job details or says they are “fine.”

“It often causes a sense of disconnect on both sides, and communication is lacking as to what’s going on in the family member’s world in law enforcement,” Brown said.

Certainly, she says, law enforcement personnel — from the base officer to the record keepers to the commanding officers — could do a better job of nurturing their relationships back home. Many, she explains, don’t talk much about their work because they want to protect their loved ones from the ugliness they see, the frustrations that come with work, and the sadness they feel.

“They chose not to place that burden on the family,” Brown said, “but ultimately it becomes a burden on all parties involved and too difficult to hold back.”

Axon Aid: well-being aims to help bridge this communication gap between law enforcement and their families by sharing these peer stories. Brown says she hopes others will be reassured to know they are not the only ones struggling with mental illness and will be inspired to seek help. In addition, she wants agencies to mobilize to support the families of their employees.

“It’s about understanding and being willing to change the culture and mentality of law enforcement,” she said.

For more information, visit Axon Aid: well-being. If you need help right now, please call Suicide Prevention at 800-273-8255.

Read more : Difficult But Necessary Conversation Made Easier With Virtual Reality Training

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