ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Albany County Sheriff’s Office is expanding its mental health support for law enforcement, dispatchers, and anyone else who needs help coping with the effects of the job.
It’s estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, including depression and PTSD. That’s compared to 20% in the general population. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple wants to give his employees more opportunities to reach out for help.
Sergeant Andrew Reiss knows better than most how important it is to address your mental health.
“I think people sometimes forget that, at the end of the day, we take our uniform off and we are the same people,” he said.
As a teenager, Reiss lost a family member to suicide. He sought counseling, and is now an advocate for all in his line of work to look for the same help when they encounter something traumatic.
“Trying to get into it, it was kind of a stigma that was holding me back a little bit,” Reiss explained, “but now it’s something that I’m able to try to reach out to people, provide that help to anyone that needs it, and just tell people that it’s possible. It doesn’t really matter what your past is, it’s what you try to do with it going forward.”
Sheriff Apple knows Sergeant Reiss is not alone in his experience, and wants to put a greater emphasis on the ways his staff copes with mental health struggles on and off the job.
Starting this week, the sheriff’s office has started using a program called Power DMS to send out information to officers about maintaining physical health, mental health, and work-life balance.
“We’re pumping out information on mental health and peer counseling,” Apple said of the initiative.
His next project is to build an app for your smartphone that includes more resources, which may include connections to private counseling. He also wants to set up quiet rooms at the new 911 building for dispatchers, who can hear unsettling or tragic events unfold over the phone on a daily basis.
“They can kind of escape from the dispatch room for a few minutes, and go into this room and kind of decompress,” Apple explained, “and maybe they can get on the app at that point and try to work through issues.”
Helming the mental health efforts at the sheriff’s office is program director Ronald Notar.
“Mental health is becoming this big, hot topic,” Notar said. “This is nothing that’s new, this is just something that here at the sheriff’s office, we’re really looking to push forward.”
The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has been awarded a grant from the Office of Mental Health (Suicide Prevention Center of NYS) to assist in its officer wellness mission.