In the last month, New York has lost three police officers to suicide, including one from the Capital Region.
Police officers see the worst of society every single day. They run into danger while everyone else runs away.
One local county is going the extra mile to help identify what the stress and trauma is doing to officers and then helping them through it.
“I was going to shoot myself that night,” Tom said. “He actually talked me out of it. I didn’t really want to die; I just wanted the pain to go away.”
Tom is a local police officer with more than 10 years on the job.
“You may see a car accident once a year; I may see three or four a day,” he said. “You name the horror, and we see it. You don’t just walk away with that. You don’t just say, ‘I’m all set.’ You take part of that with you.”
That pain piled on Tom as it has so many officers until it became so great he wanted to die. Warren County Officer Jimmy Banish is the man who saved Tom’s life.
“And every time we save a life, I call my mom and say, ‘Mom, we saved another one,’” Banish said.
Helping others has been Banish’s sole goal since one of his brothers, NYSP Trooper Joe Banish, took his own life nine years ago. He has basically worked two full time jobs: a deputy on patrol and a peer support counselor saving the officers he could.
“Everything travels at light speed, and why aren’t we when it comes to getting ourselves help,” Banish said.
“There were signs on my job that I was going downhill,” Tom said. “Everybody pretty much ignored it. Figured it would go away. You don’t talk about it. You’re a cop. Deal with it.”
Retired Police Capt. John Cooney presented a mental health first aid class to officers in Warren County.
“Things that your department provides you to protect your well-being every day include vest, Taser, pepper spray,” he told the class. “But what do we have beyond our ballistic vest? We have our heart. We have our soul. And that is one thing law enforcement does not do a good job with, and I’ll say it.”
The class is a first step to opening the door into the dark shadows of depression. But it is Warren County Sheriff Bud York who is really pulling back the curtain.
“It’s already making a difference, absolutely,” he said.
York asked the county for another deputy so he could make Banish a full-time peer support counselor.
“He’s a pioneer,” Banish said. “This doesn’t happen every day.”
Warren County is the first small agency in the state to have a full-time counselor.
“We have some great people who are working with me, and the momentum is shifting, and we are getting more people by the day,” Banish said.
To save more people like Tom.
“Just ask for help,” Tom said. “It’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”
The good news is the younger generation of officers is more open to getting help, according to Banish. In addition, the younger officers are more likely to use social media, including #breakthestigma