HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Mental health continues to be a concern after a record number of current and former police officers died by suicide in 2019.
In 2019, 228 officers died by suicide, which was a 32 percent increase from 2018, when 172 officers died. A third of those deaths happened in 4 states, which include New York, California, Texas, and Florida.
Sergeant Charles Grubbs, of the Harrisonburg Police Department, says men and women in the police force struggle with opening up because of the stigma that officers are supposed to be the ones solving problems and not having them themselves. He says there is a workplace culture problem that needs to change.
“We have to change the culture that just because you talk to someone, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak,” Sgt. Grubbs said. “Having the ability to come out and admit your faults and understand that you need help sometimes from other people is actually a strength.”
HPD started a peer support group last April. Sgt. Grubbs said officers are free to open up there without fear of judgment.
“You can be vulnerable, you can talk about it and know that you’re not going to be judged or that your job is not in jeopardy because of talking about [your mental health],” Sgt. Grubbs said. “We also do it for the family too, because we understand that this job also plays a lot of stressors on families.”
The support team includes seven wellness officers and two doctors, who are aiming to prioritize mental health in the workplace.