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West Bloomfield police provide peer-to-peer support for first responders

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. – First responders have some of the most stressful jobs that exist and, over time, that work can really take its toll -- emotionally and mentally.

To help these responders work through their experiences, the West Bloomfield Police Department decided to tap some of their own to lend a hand.

The department created a peer-to-peer support group, taking seven leaders in the department and training them to offer mental and emotional support.

The most important part: it’s confidential. The bosses never know who’s asking for help.

West Bloomfield Deputy Chief Curt Lawson says for as long as he can remember, the mantra has been, “Suck it up and move on.”

That mantra is finally changing for two reasons: there are younger generations in law enforcement who are more open to discuss mental health, and increasing suicide rates among law enforcement members.

And if any of the peer support team members feel someone’s safety is at risk, they can call in the professionals. For West Bloomfield, that’s psychologist Melanie Schwartz.

“Depression, anxiety, PTSD, alcohol and drug use can become a problem, social anxiety,” Schwartz said. “It’s multiple traumas that they’ve witnessed over time, and so the PTSD builds up over time because it’s not being dealt with.”

Even if first responders are immune to the emotional effects of their work, nobody can be immune to the mental impact.

“Because our brains don’t know how to deal with trauma,” Schwartz said. “And so our brain is constantly working to try and process what’s happened, but it really doesn’t know how.”

And that’s what the peer-to-peer groups are about. West Bloomfield’s group is not the first to exist, but it’s the first for them -- and it’s a step in the right direction.

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