COVID-19 and Mental Health Update for Public Safety Officers

It is especially important that when in difficult and stressful situations, public safety officers take the time to care for and protect their mental health and well-being.
 
The mental strain of being a public safety officer can be extraordinarily taxing. Add the current Covid-19 pandemic, and officers face an even greater hardship for enforcement now as they must deal with another form of officer safety—protection of their own immunity and the risk of exposure to their families at home.
 
“Officers have reported feeling increased anxiety knowing that they could pass the virus on to their loved ones and face exhaustion from working overtime as departments are stretched thin.”1
 
A public crisis can play on people’s emotions, including the seasoned officers who have ‘seen it all.’ If you start seeing signs in yourself or a coworker of increased agitation, anger, short temper, anxiety, and/or increased alcohol consumption, address it immediately. If not managed, these concerns can grow rapidly and cause ongoing challenges.2 This is not the time to ignore symptoms or proceed forward as if you are immune to risk.
 
 
 
 

Source: University of Phoenix – “Majority of First Responders Face Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace”

What Should You Do?

If your mental health has suffered because of contracting Covid-19 and/or facing the high intensity of being on the front lines during this pandemic, there are presumptive workers’ compensation claims to be filed for YOUR protection and safety. (California Labor Code § 3212.) Public safety officers whose mental health may be suffering are encouraged to consult with one of our attorneys today. And remember:

  • EXTRA RESPONSE MEANS EXTRA EXHAUSTION – Work schedules during this time will become overloaded and tensions will run high in the civilian population. Do what you can to get good sleep and focus on healthy eating and hydration. Dehydrated bodies cause disoriented brains.3

  • DEBRIEF WITH SOMEONE YOU TRUST – It is critical to process this uncertain time and any feelings of anxiety in a healthy way. Communicate with a loved one, coworker, faith leader, or another trusted individual about how you’re feeling.

  • PRACTICE SELF COMPASSION – There is no Covid-19 roadmap. You are doing the best you can in a difficult situation.

  • VALIDATE ANY EMOTIONS – There is no right or wrong way to process the Covid-19 experience as a public safety officer.

  • RECOGNIZE THE VALUABLE ROLE YOU PLAY – Remind yourself that despite the challenges, you are making a difference and taking care of those most in need.

  • FIND ACTIVITIES TO LOWER STRESS – Do things to calm yourself like meditation and yoga or exercise. These activities lower your heart rate, relax your muscles and quiet your thoughts to give you a better sense of clarity and help you approach your role as a public safety officer from a place of peace, rather than a place of mental chaos.

What About When the Pandemic Ends?

This will be a traumatized world. Public safety officers may slip into “fix-it” mode without even noticing.4 Instead of slowing down, officers will look outward to fix things: communities, facilities and families. Officers who feel as though they cannot slow-it-down are highly encouraged to consult with one of our attorneys today.

 

Source: University of Phoenix – “Majority of First Responders Face Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace”

The University of Phoenix study included these additional findings:

“The majority of public safety officers have been exposed to trauma:

    • 69% have experienced lack of sleep
    • 46% have experienced anxiety
    • 27% of first responders have been formally diagnosed with depression

Communicating about mental health issues:

    • 61% of respondents feel comfortable talking to their supervisor about mental health concerns
    • 42% disagree that their supervisor openly discusses the importance of addressing mental health concerns
    • 50% of first responders believe their supervisor will treat them differently if they seek mental health help”

Public safety officers, together, as a team, have stepped up to meet this challenge and honor their commitment to serve. Take good care of yourself so that you can keep taking care of others who aren’t as prepared as you.*

– Kelli M. Hemmen ESQ. Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone


1 Amy Morgan, Protecting the mental health of first responders during a pandemic, (March 13, 2020), https://www.policeone.com/coronavirus-covid-19/article.

2 Id., supra 1.

3 Maya Mason, A letter to my corrections family during the COVID-19 crisis, (April 7, 2020), https://www.correctionsone.com/coronavirus-covid-19.

4 Id., supra 3.

*Additional References:

-COVID-19: Health and Safety for Law Enforcement and Families, https://www.theiacp.org/resources/document/covid-19-health-and-safety-for-law-enforcement-families;

-Findings and statistics presented were derived from a 2017 survey on first responder mental health commissioned by University of Phoenix; surveying 2,000 U.S. adults who are employed as peace officers, firefighters, EMT/paramedics and nurses. (Majority of First Responders Face Mental Health Challenges in the Workplace (April 18, 2017).).

Graphics: https://www.phoenix.edu/about_us/media-center/news/uopx-releases-first-responder-mental-health-survey-results.html.