Agencies can and should take an active role in developing effective programming and creating an environment in which officers and firefighters can take full advantage of it.
These programs should not compete with each other or other services, but instead should become aspects of a full system of maintaining emotional wellness.
1. Take a holistic approach. The IACP 2018 report emphasized that successful wellness and safety programs should be multifaceted, consisting of a combination of physical and mental health programs, among others. In regard to mental health and emotional wellness, agencies should strive to provide programming, such as peer support, in-service mental health seminars, and wellness check-ins.
2. Provide top-down support. For such programming to be effective, agencies should promote “a wellness culture that permeates every level of the organization, starting at the top.”vii Top administrative staff should initiate and support such programming, and actively participate in efforts to fund, facilitate, and take part in the services they recommend to employees, sending a message that officer health is a fundamental priority for the agency.
3. Get officer involvement. One hurdle in implementing a wellness program is officer buy-in. Agencies should thus not rely solely on a top-down approach, but also strive to involve employees in planning and implementing programs.
4. Take a proactive vs. reactive approach. Preventing crises is often easier and more cost effective than solving them. Therefore, agencies should take an active role in helping develop officers and firefighters who are resilient to mental stress and physically fit from the start, to reduce their health risks later. Agencies should thus focus resources on education, intervention, and prevention.
5. Increase convenience. One important consideration in executing wellness programming is convenience. Improving and increasing access to services is critical to any program’s success. Employees will be more likely to use mental health and physical health programming if it is available at a convenient time and place. Not all employees may feel comfortable accessing services at a location or with an individual that the agency has designated. When possible, employees should be given some flexibility and options regarding where and by whom they are seen.
6. Offer confidential options. Physical, and especially mental health needs can be deeply personal. Development of all health and wellness programming should keep confidentiality at the forefront. While programming such as group fitness classes and nutrition or mental health seminars can be helpful for officers, some programming should be anonymous and confidential. This could include accessibility to anonymous hotlines, and confidential and private peer support and/or wellness check-ins.