Northern Illinois University is hosting two seminars this month to train police officers on the risks of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.
The programs are happening as the result of a grant of nearly $36,000 from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Peoria Police Department Sergeant Shawn Curry is one of the program’s presenters. He’s also the vice president of the Illinois Public Pension Fund Association (IPPFA), which is co-sponsoring the seminars with the university.
Curry wrote the First Responders Suicide Prevention Act, which ensures confidentiality for law enforcement when they seek counseling or peer support. Curry noticed that nothing was being done to help officers, even after an increase in mental health disability filings.
“You have such anti-police sentiment out there that officers feel that, even if they were having some sort of an issue, that they can’t seek help, because that would be used against them,” Curry said.
That bill passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly in May. After writing the bill, the IPPFA decided to look into how to train officers to set up and create a peer program. Curry said NIU psychology professor Michelle Lilly, a specialist in PTSD and trauma recovery, proved a “perfect fit” for the program. The group already works with NIU frequently, according to Curry.
“Not only can they speak to the subject matter, but they can also convey it in a way that these guys are going to actually come out and hopefully learn something out of it,” Curry said.
According to Curry, the trainings are meant to help officers go back to their departments, start peer support programs, and identify resources that can help officers. He says in addition to PTSD and suicide, discussion topics for the seminars will include anxiety, depression and "moral" injury.
Curry says the mental health problems stem in part from long work hours.
“When you work 50 hours a week taking care of everybody else’s problems, when you’re off, you never take care of your own,” Curry said.
When officers do have a struggle, whether it’s work-related or personal, Curry says officers tend to end up trusting each other.
“They don’t necessarily trust going to somebody who doesn’t understand what they’re doing day in and day out,” Curry said. “It’s gonna mean more coming from a coworker or somebody who’s been through the same situations as them to nudge them to go possibly get the help that they need.”
Curry says there has to be a way to make sure that officers are mentally healthy.
“If you have a healthy group of police officers, that benefits not only the police department, their community that they serve, but every citizen they come in contact with,” Curry said.
Six more similar trainings will take place throughout the state next year. Curry hopes that continued funding will eventually allow for these trainings to be done monthly across the state.
The first seminar is scheduled at the Hoffman Estates campus of NIU on June 12 and 13. Another is scheduled June 26 and 27 in Naperville.