We wish we could dismiss the concerns a depressed cop has, to tell the officer No need to worry at all. That fear you have? Completely unfounded! We cannot do that. The simple fact is that seeking help for a mental illness may have significant personal and professional consequences. Each agency has its own unique culture. Each state its own mental health code. Depending on the agency and where it is located, an officer seeking or requiring treatment may face official or unofficial sanctions if the treatment or illness become known. In the worst case scenario, if the depression is so severe it requires locked psychiatric hospitalization for the patient's own safety, it is likely the right to possess or carry a firearm, an essential component of being a cop, will probably be revoked at least temporarily.
Of all the fears, losing the very privilege to be a cop and earn a livelihood in law enforcement is probably the greatest. It is perhaps the one that causes so many cops to try and tough it out, hoping the depression will lift on its own. It is perhaps the one that leads to hundreds of cops taking their own lives each year. Ask yourself what is worse; a most likely temporary disruption of life and career, or death? And remember, locked hospitalization is a worst case treatment scenario and far from the norm for most patients.
Early Intervention vs. Crisis Management
Crisis management of a depressive disorder is obviously not the preferred method of treatment but is often the one people find themselves forced into. By the time depression has become a crisis, personal functioning is often notably diminished, the sufferer is less likely to make good decisions, and the number of viable treatment options are reduced. A very personal issue is likely far more public than anyone realizes or is comfortable with, and the likelihood of long-term consequences increases. Realistically, at this stage the depression and resulting crisis may well be a medical emergency and should be treated as such.
Far better is the option of early intervention by a mental health professional. The patient can be more involved in and better informed about treatment decisions, maintain control of life and work, and choose to let just as many, or as few, people know about what is going on as he or she chooses. The earlier someone with depression chooses intervention, the greater the chance of successful treatment and recovery and getting back to normal life. And early intervention ensures privacy is protected, whereas a crisis may well put someone's personal problems on public display.
When should I find help?
In order to choose early intervention, it is important to recognize some of the common symptoms of depression. Although there are several different types of depressive disorders, and the variety of symptoms are great and experienced differently by different people, below are some of the most commonly used by mental health practitioners When you are experiencing any of the following, and they are affecting your quality of life and functioning, it is time to look for help:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feeling sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). (In children and adolescents, this may be characterized as an irritable mood.)
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide
- Marked irritability and easily frustrated
- Feeling overwhelmed and increased anxiety
- Crying more often
How do I find help?
Finding help is easy! Look on your health insurance list of providers for a psychiatrist or licensed counselor, or ask your primary care physician for a referral. Talk to your pastor or department chaplain. Ask the department social worker or psychologist for a referral, or call your EAP. Maybe just start flipping through the Yellow Pages for a doctor or therapist. Going straight to a professional in the field is the most direct path to help, and each are bound by strict legal and ethical rules of confidentiality as stated in HIPPA laws! As long as you are not actively a danger to yourself or anyone else they and their staff will not - cannot! - tell anyone you have come to them for help, advice, guidance, or treatment. Not your Chief. Not your coworkers. Not their spouse, or even yours if you do not want them to. No one.