The New York Police Department is launching a new mental health program for officers as part of efforts to assuage a “crisis” that has seen an increased number in officer suicides.
Commissioner James O’Neill and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Finest Care, a program that will connect officers with free and confidential counseling, during an appearance on NBC’s Today show on Wednesday.
“A lot of times the biggest challenge is for officers to know it’s OK to need help yourself,” de Blasio said. “You always are giving help to other people. You sometimes need help yourself.”
Finest Care will link the city’s 36,000 officers with psychologists and psychiatrists from three different city medical centers in collaboration with New York-Presbyterian Hospital. All services will be free of charge, including prescription medications.
New York-Presbyterian will maintain a database, but the NYPD will only have access to the number of officers who participate in the program, and not their names, O’Neill said on Today.
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“I think the biggest issue that we’re facing is internally and externally there are a number of avenues that officers can take, but there’s still that stigma,” he said. “Think about the stress and cumulative trauma that they see every day. You go to shooting scenes, you go to murder scenes. You’re interviewing sexual assault victims. And we don’t really talk about it.”
His commitment to anonymity comes following an investigative report released by the NYPD in September that found 50 percent of former officers who completed a mental health survey said they “considered getting professional support reported that they feared the Department or their colleagues would find out if they chose to seek assistance.”
The announcement also comes just one week after an off-duty NYPD officer died by suicide in Queens in what was the tenth officer suicide this year, and the eighth since June, WNBC reported.
The outlet reported that after the deaths of two cops just one day apart in June, O’Neill sent a note to all 55,000 officers and civilian employees of the NYPD urging them to seek help if needed.
“This is a mental health crisis. And the NYPD & the law enforcement profession as a whole absolutely must take action. We must take care of each other; we must address this issue – now,” O’Neill tweeted at the time.
This is a mental-health crisis. And the NYPD & the law enforcement profession as a whole absolutely must take action. We must take care of each other; we must address this issue — now. Please take my statement below to heart & help yourself, your loved ones, & your colleagues. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/urHuzIiiFb— Commissioner O’Neill (@NYPDONeill) June 15, 2019
According to the NYPD’s September report, almost one in four police officers have had thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives — and the suicide rate for uniformed NYPD personnel is more than double the rate for the general population of New York City.
“I don’t think it’s a little late,” O’Neill said Wednesday of the new program on Today. “I think we reacted immediately. Everything that we put in place, we didn’t wait until last week. This has been an ongoing process throughout the year.”
Finest Care joins several similar programs in cities like Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, all of which offer anonymous counseling to officers.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.