Why Mental Health Support After A Critical Incident Matters

Law enforcement is an incredibly rewarding career. In the course of serving the community, officers can be faced with difficult situations that affect them physically and emotionally. 

Referred to as “critical incidents,” these difficult events may include situations such as a firearm being discharged or even an individual or officer losing their life. 

The impact

As anyone who’s been through a difficult experience will tell you, the impact doesn’t always hit you right away. 

Without ongoing support and multiple opportunities to process critical incidents with peers and professionals, PTSD can take hold. 

No matter how long you’ve served, critical incidents impact everyone. In fact, repeated exposure to difficult situations can lead to compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress, something Lexington County Chaplain David Perkins refers to as “auto-pilot mode.” 

A comprehensive program

The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department takes a proactive, preventive approach when it comes to supporting our team’s mental health.

Though all officers receive training on what to expect in the aftermath of a critical incident at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, nothing can prepare you for the reality of experiencing one firsthand. Having the right support in place is crucial. 

Referred to by South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP)’s Program Manager Eric Skidmore as a “three-legged stool,” officers have the support of their peers, chaplains and mental health professionals. 

An opportunity to talk 

At the heart of the process is the critical incident debriefing. Not only does this give officers a forum to discuss the event, share their perspective and process their experience, it also acts as a gateway to further support services. 

Four times a year, SCLEAP holds a three-day Post Critical Incident Seminar, giving officers from across the state a chance to receive additional support and training. 

Free professional support

All of us need more support sometimes, and the same is true of our deputies. As well as having Mental Health professionals present at critical incident debriefings, officers can access one-on-one mental health support at no cost. 

Whether it’s talking therapy or cutting-edge trauma processing techniques such as Eye Movement  Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), all sworn officers in South Carolina have access to a $15,000 secondary insurance benefit to cover any co-pay or deductibles related to mental health treatment. 

A whole-person approach 

A difficult experience at work doesn’t just affect us in the workplace, it impacts every aspect of our lives. 

SCLEAP’s pioneering debriefing method invites spouses to join the process, giving them a chance to hear about what their partner has experienced and to understand its impact. 

This 360-degree approach to mental health support is something Pastor David Perkins feels strongly about. 

“My goal for them is that they are the best police officers that we can have in Lexington County,” he says. “But on top of that, I want them to be the best husbands or wives and fathers or mothers they can be.”

Support, not religion 

Chaplain Perkins is one of two chaplains available 24/7, 365 days a year for all members of the department. He describes his role as helping officers to be the best they can be “physically, mentally and spiritually.” 

Though he’s an ordained minister, the mental health support he provides isn’t a matter of faith, but of love and support. 

“I think it’s important for the officers and the people involved to understand that our job is not to push religion on them…but to be able to walk with them when they walk through the wilderness of critical incidents,” he explains.  

A proactive approach

Having structured support from chaplains and SCLEAP as part of the aftermath of critical incidents means officers get the support they need quickly. 

This proactive approach can make all the difference when it comes to mental health. Quick, free access to support stops mental health difficulties escalating, enabling our team to be at their best at work whilst serving our community and at home as a part of their family.