Moorhead Police combating mental health, wellness issues

MOORHEAD, M.N. (KVLY) With many long days responding to sometimes dangerous situations, a police officer's mental health can struggle.

(Photo: Derek Seifert / U.S. Air Force)(MGN)

In 2019 alone, over 220 officers in the United States committed suicide after battling the stress and trauma that come with the job.

From homicides to traffic stops, law enforcement officers see it all— And sometimes all in one day.

“We just had a recent officer start here that in the first four months on the job, went to nine different suicide calls and four of those were suicides by hanging. And if you can imagine how that accumulates in a 32-year career, we’re recognizing that we need to get in front of this,” Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe said.

Chief Monroe says previously, mental health help was usually only offered after critical incidents like the murder of Dystynee Avery, otherwise services were only available off-site.

“For them to go out there and deal with the things they did in looking for this young lady in a landfill, those images can get burned into their mind. And that might come back up, and it could be a day later, a week later, or years later,” Monroe said.

But Monroe says Moorhead Police is now working to get ahead of the curve. The department has partnered with MSUM and has embedded a mental health expert in the department to help officers before it’s too late.

“At the time when I started, we were still kinda in the ‘just rub some dirt on it and get back to work’ kind of a thing. It’s not like that anymore because of the problems that we’ve seen with police suicides and alcoholism,” Monroe said.

The department's wellness coordinator Aaron Suomala Folkerds says he’s specifically working to help officers at the beginning of their careers rather than only when incidents happen.

“They see a lot and it is that kind of drip, drip drip, over time that trauma can accumulate,” Suomala Folkerds said.

Suomala Folkerds says he's also working on what he calls ‘psychological resilience': Helping officers deal with trauma as they’re experiencing it.

“But then also strategies for after, for when they go home. What is it like to live with that trauma in their life and how can they process that?” he said.

Suomala Folkerds says he hopes his presence in the building will help fight the stigma of seeking services, as well as help officers better serve the community.

“Their ability to take care of themselves is only going to help their ability to take care of others, particularly those in mental health crisis,” Suomala Folkerds said.