Green Bay police breaking stigma surrounding suicide, mental illness

The police chief talks about the constant stress officers carry
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 6:35 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Green Bay Police Department is taking proactive steps to address mental health in the force with its new comprehensive wellness program, launched a few months back.

“You meet people on, a lot of times, the worst days in their lives,” said Police Chief Chris Davis.

On top of the job, he said public scrutiny and other personal worries also impact an officer’s mental well-being.

“That stress over time, to me, that’s one of the things that really builds up,” he said.

The weight of it all can be too much to carry.

“The reality is that more officers die by their own hands than by an assault every year. And usually, that number is 2 to 2 1/2 times more,” said Sgt. Erin Bloch.

Bloch shared more information she found on the First H.E.L.P website.

“For example, over the last 5 or 6 years,” said Bloch. “In 2019, that was the highest year for law enforcement suicides across the nation. It was just over 200.”

She went on to say there are 104 officer suicides so far this year, but that number only reflects the number of cases reported.

To help break the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness, the department launched the comprehensive wellness program a few months back.

Physical, spiritual, financial and occupational wellness are just a few of the focuses of the program aiming to be proactive in mental health.

“It’s really a robust program. We’re slowly, but surely, peeling back the layers and starting to implement plans of that,” said Sgt. Bloch.

Chief Davis said, “What we really want at the end of the day, is our police officers and our staff that the public interacts with to be in the right headspace to provide them with good service.”

Shelly Missall, the Program Manager for Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, said the Wisconsin Life call center for the 988 suicide and crisis line has received calls from first responders.

She said because of confidentiality it’s not possible to give a number on how many calls come in from first responders.

Green Bay's police chief says officer suicides have always been a concern but now more people are talking about it. As a result, more officers are seeking help.