Cops & Depression

Skill training for survival off the streets; knowing how to take care of yourselves and each other psychologically and emotionally is critical to maintain officer wellness and the longevity of this honorable profession.


I’ve been in the mental health field since 1990 so, as you can imagine, by this time I feel confident to call myself an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of depression.  It is the number one issue that brings people into my office.  It is also something I encounter every day, whether in my professional or personal life, because I have friends who have depression and it runs in my family.  Based upon national statistics 1 in every 4 people are being treated for depression and even more go undiagnosed. 

Depression is hard to heal from and it is not easy to live with.  Believe it or not, it is not something someone can just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” from, “exercise out,” or “just forget about and move on.”  Rather, depression requires intentional changes in a person’s behavioral choices and thought processes to begin the healing process of this medical condition

There are a lot of myths surrounding depression and, even in this day and age of constant media coverage and education, there are still a lot of negative biases towards people who have depression.  In our presentation Police Morale for Supervisors:  It IS Your Problem! we do a section on the personal reasons someone may be exhibiting low morale.  When I start presenting on depression it never fails; there is always someone, or sometimes even a group, among the supervisors who believe depression is a “made up” condition.  They believe it is something that classifies someone as emotionally weak or somehow lesser of a person.  We get the same reaction when we present our training on officer wellness called More Than A Cop: Emotional & Relationship Survival for Law Enforcement.  I wish I was used to this reaction, but each time I hear an officer’s argument against depression being a legitimate, and not made up, it shocks, amazes, and saddens me, for I know this officer’s belief becomes a part of the reason depression remains a silent killer among LEOs.  All it takes is for one person, especially a person who is in power or highly respected in the department, to hold a strong negative opinion that will foster an environment of shame and silence.  It takes a lot of courage to argue for the depression diagnosis rather than to give into someone’s strong opinion that it doesn’t exist, it’s only for the weak, it’s all psychobabble, or it is a way for drug companies to make money.  If you are one of these people who hold negative opinions of the diagnosis of depression, please do me a favor:  clear your mind and try to take a fresh new look at what depression truly is.  We will start in this series by addressing some of the myths.

Depression is not a real medical illness.

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), “Major depression is a serious medical illness affecting 15 million American adults, or approximately 5-8 percent of the adult population in a given year. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual's thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States.”  Over the years much research has been done on depression and its genesis has been shown to be rooted in genetic and biological causes. Individuals coping with depression have a higher level of stress hormones present in their bodies, and brain scans of depressed patients show decreased activity in some areas of the brain.  Depressed people have a lack of or overproduction of certain chemicals needed in the brain to be released into the bloodstream to stabilize a person’s mood.  Without the proper chemical release a person’s mood will fluctuate and go to lows from which a person cannot rebound back without the proper medical help and interventions.

Depression only affects the weak & mentally unstable.

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