New mental health program for Valley officers

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Drownings, collisions and crimes are often traumatic experiences involving law enforcement.

Officers are constantly working to help others, but not getting help for themselves.

“Officers are dying by suicide, I think by and large,” said Michael Matta, regional director of the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network.

Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network The group began its service in April and has since worked to prevent suicide among officers.

“There is a stigma associated with receiving that mental health intervention,” said Alton Police Chief Jonathan Flores.

According to Flores, one of these stigmas is joblessness. Flores said officers fear they will feel unfit for the job if they seek help with mental health.

“It’s our responsibility to not only educate ourselves, but to educate our community that our officers are serving them,” Flores said. “And it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Sometimes, officers can have a hard time finding the right person to talk to.

“They see things every day that the average citizen doesn’t,” Flores said. “They are traumatized every day.”

According to BlueHealth.org, There have been 94 officers and 112 total first responders who have taken their own lives since January of this year, and that doesn’t include those who have not been reported.

“People who aren’t in law enforcement don’t know what to say to an officer or how to respond to different things,” Mata said.

Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network Program helps first responders get help.

“The mobile app allows officers to communicate more when they’re in the network and need to talk to someone,” Matta said.

The officer-to-officer relationship is just one thing the program offers.

Mental health professionals who know how to deal with the issues officers see are also on hand.

“Because I’m a separate entity, you know from the police department where you work, there’s no informational hub,” said New Dan Counseling Director Dr. Elizabeth Chavez-Palacios. “There’s that privacy, there’s that privacy.”

Chavez-Palacios said there is a pattern she sees among officers in the Valley.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in Hispanic culture, in terms of machismo here, and you know, I have to absorb it, you know, I do what I have to do,” Chavez-Palqueos said. “So as law enforcement first responders, we have to understand that we have to take care of ourselves.”

“The number one piece of advice I can give them is to talk to each other, no one understands what you’re all going through,” said Dr. Norma Villanueva of the Nueva Luz Foundation.

“We look at the statistics around the state showing that this is an issue,” Flores said. “I urge all agency managers to do their part to take care of the men and women who serve our communities.”

Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network He is also working to expand the program to include firefighters in the future.



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