‘It is ok to ask for help’: Local law enforcement speak on mental health awareness

Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 5:42 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - In recent years, the emphasis on mental health awareness in police departments has become more and more prevalent. Many people call the police when there is trouble, but what about when the police needs help.

“So when we have our experiences on our own it’s often hard for us to ask for that help because we’re not used to asking for help, we’re used to helping others.” said Moorhead Police Cpt. Deric Swenson.

The Moorhead Police Dept. recently went through wellness training and is one of the only departments in the country with a wellness coordinator in-house.

“Before it might be rub a little dirt on it and just kind of take care of it and stuff it down, but now we have mechanisms for officers to talk about the traumas they experience.” said Aaron Suomala Folkerds.

According to those on the force, law enforcement has come along way to tackling mental health.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder according to the Mayo Clinic:

- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

- Flashbacks

- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

“And I think we are doing a much better job now as law enforcement leaders. Identifying and providing services for our staff.” said West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness.

“What we really try to instill in officers is that if you feel it’s a tough event for you that you seek help.” said Fargo Police Sgt. Shawn Gamradt.

Brian Casey, who was there to help out with Moorhead PD’s wellness training has written books on mental health related challenges within police departments. Casey has also been on the force for many years, believing that taking mental health is extremely important.

“It’s my belief that with some forethought and planning we can better prepare for and respond to and even maybe avoid some mental health or behavioral health crisis amongst public safety workers by just thinking ahead about these issues.” said Casey.

From peer to peer groups to dedicated personnel to even therapy dogs, there are many tools for law enforcement to use. The local police departments believe that having officers that are mentally healthy will be good for everyone.

“Changing that mindset within that officer that it is ok to ask for help.” said Cpt. Swenson.

Suicide Prevention Resources:

- 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

- 2-1-1 FirstLink

- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

- Mental Health Services in Clay County

- Suicide Prevention (Veterans Affairs)