WARREN COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — They protect communities across the country, but police say they’re struggling to protect their own mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, an alarming majority of police officers face alcohol abuse, depression, PTSD, and suicide.
“They don’t see that it’s okay to not be okay,” said Officer Banish with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. He says his life’s work is to change that. Banish is the peer support coordinator at the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and founder of the local non-profit NYLEAP, which stands for New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program. This week, he conducted training at the Saratoga County Sheriff’s office. His goal is to normalize police seeking help through peers.
“Traditionally there’s been a stigma attached to an officer getting help and needing help,” said Banish. “Officers will look at it and say well I’m not going to get promoted if I talk to a clinician, I’m not going to get the next best thing because they’re going to see me as being weak. That perception of someone being weak, it’s hard to break.” NYLEAP officials say more officers die by the hands of their own guns than by homicide. “We are killing ourselves at two and three times the rate that the bad guys are killing us,” said Banish. “We see that there’s an epidemic.”
An epidemic that spread to Banish’s own brother in 2008. Lt. Joseph Banish took his life while he was still in his New York State Trooper uniform. The tragedy inspired Banish to create NYLEAP.
“I’m very open about my story and what happened to me and how I got to where I am,” he said. “I share that as often as I can to empower others.” Today, the non-profit has grown into a national hub for first responder mental healthcare. The organization consults confidentially with officers across the state and the country. “It’s not going to stop until I can bring those suicide numbers down to zero, so I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Banish.