‘We compartmentalize and we put up that wall and we move on’: The invisible risks in law enforcement

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Anthony Mazurkiewicz is the 16th Rochester Police officer to die in the line of duty.

His murder shows the reality of the dangers of police work. But the job comes with other risks, too, ones that aren’t always visible.

In 2022, the FBI says 32 law enforcement officers committed suicide and nine attempted suicide. Experts say mental wellness in this profession is a necessary conversation.

“The average human being have one, maybe two seriously traumatic experiences in their lifetimes. A law enforcement officer has two to four a month,” Licensed Mental Health Clinician Teresa McHanon said.

McHanon specializes in working with first responders. She says some of her clients struggle with asking for help.

“The culture does not encourage them to reach out to a therapist. So I actually take calls anonymously to see if they feel comfortable. For them to reach out, they’re probably at their last straw,” McHanon said.

Conversations about mental health have become a priority for the Rochester Police Department. The Officer Wellness and Resilience Unit launched in December 2021 under then interim chief David Smith.

“We compartmentalize and we put up that wall and we move on, which isn’t the healthiest thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons in the profession we have so many issues with family life and mental illness and stress,” Rochester Police Department Chief David Smith said.

Chief Smith says he has been candid with his officers about his own experiences.

“I have PTSD,” says Smith. “So do a lot of us. It used to be , you don’t talk about it, you don’t admit it, you go drinking with the guys. You just shut up and you handle it otherwise. I think by and large as a whole everyone is acknowledging as a society that we have some issues that need to be addressed.”

McHahon says providing resources to first responders, particularly police officers, is crucial.

“And when they’re listened to and cared about and they’re given the tools and techniques to heal themselves, they run with it — just like they run to help people and save lives,” McHanon said.

If you or a law enforcement officer are in need of help, you can find a list below:

Teresa McHanon- Licensed Mental Health Clinician (607) 382-2099

First Responder Counselor: You can find a comprehensive list of mental health professionals in any state and Canada.

CopLine at 1-800-267-5463

If you’re in a mental health emergency, call 988.

If you’re in any other emergency, call 911.