“Officer Wellness”, one of the new buzz-words thrown around these days, popped into my head when I heard the news. But how did we get to this point of no return?
Tragically, this life of one of our brothers and sisters was cut short by their own hands. Somberly we will celebrate their lives in the coming days during national Police Week. But such news also sends a ripple effect through the law enforcement community, as self-inflicted losses occur more frequently than we care to acknowledge.
Beyond finance, our team has fostered relationships over the years with professionals who help our relationships in different ways, one of which is unique, and it came to mind with this news. Amanda Carmean, a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health and a National Certified Counselor assists us with career transitions and retirement - - an incredibly significant mental and emotional event. Everyone has different trigger points and fears of the unknown may become a major stressor as one sheds the badge.
I recently sat down with Amanda to discuss some of the more significant psychological challenges that face many law enforcement professionals during this period of transition. In effort to provide a deep dive into our conversation and not just a bullet point summary, I have decided to provide this to you in a multi-part series.
Part 1 (Shedding the Law Enforcement Identity and Finding Purpose)
I am reminded of my own career transition as I retired from law enforcement. A few years prior to my separation, I started to set the frame work for what I called the second half of my life. I felt empowered, knowing there was opportunity ahead of me.
However, the opportunity did not ease the anxiety I harbored in leaving a profession that I knew and loved very much. Although I felt comfortable and confident in my own abilities and even though I had mapped out my own exit strategy, I still had self-doubt as to whether this was a sound decision. After all, so many of us think we can’t be or do anything other than be a cop; it’s often part of our identity at this stage of life.
As an example, it’s sometimes difficult to translate our unique skills into an applicable civilian role or career. As such, the anxiety can build. I know this because I have been there, just as some of you have experienced. Every decision point is analyzed carefully, we may even have strange questions come to mind because we know that at some point, there’s no turning back.
One significant challenge I faced was the loss of identity. As you know, being a police officer is not a 9-5 job, it becomes a way of life, intertwined into your DNA and becomes the very fabric of your being. Whether on the job or just simply going to the grocery store or, God forbid, the mall, your head is always on a swivel scanning and assessing every person and questioning their motive and intent. The mind never rests, and this goes on for years and in many cases decades. Then one day you turn in your equipment and just like that, you are officially stripped of your identity.
Your perceived sense of purpose ceases and you are now a civilian. Just a civilian. Yes, you may have a retirement badge, but it says just that “Retired” and yes you may carry a gun, but it is now for personal defense. You are no longer vested with the power and authority to intervene in crimes committed in front of you without fear of personal liability. You feel powerless as merely a glorified witness. All of this occurs within a matter of minutes with no transition. Boom. Talk about stress - - and yet we paint a smile on our face as if we are happy - - because after all, we still have to maintain this tough Type-A persona.
To be continued next week…