Mary Dixon: Since 2018, the Chicago Police Department has lost at least 22 officers to suicide. The city is taking steps to promote the mental health of officers, but the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge for most Chicago cops says these steps are not enough. So the union has turned the second floor of its Chicago facility into a wellness center with a waiting room and offices for one on one and family counseling. Psychologist Carrie Steiner is a former Chicago cop, who oversees the clinicians. She invited in WBEZ's Chip Mitchell who asked what's driving the suicides.
Carrie Steiner: Well, I think that there's many things but when Chicago canceled their days off and have them work 18 days in a row, and they get written up for small minor infractions, you know, not having, you know, a pressed uniform or something when they have been working 18 days straight. That's a problem. I think that it is very hard. There are a lot of communities that are not favorable and happy to see the police. It's also a job where you're constantly seeing trauma and the worst of you know, what's happened in Chicago. For all of those reasons, I think that you have high rates of suicide.
Chip Mitchell: Well, the Police Department says the mental health of its officers is a top priority. They've set up a peer support program, counseling through the EAP, the department's Employee Assistance Program, 22 licensed clinicians. This center that you helped set up for the lodge right here, it's a separate effort. Why is it needed?
Carrie Steiner: Well, I think that there are a lot of officers that feel that EAPs, because they are still with the department, that they might not trust the EAP. Some officers feel that it's uncomfortable going there, because, you know, everybody knows exactly why you're there. They feel that maybe people will talk. And again we're just a very outside agency. We do not feel any political pressure. We just make, or try to make the best clinical decisions that we can for our clients.
Chip Mitchell: So, if you're an average cop, you come back to your station after a shift. You want to talk to somebody about it. Are you going to have somebody there, a professional to give you some...
Carrie Steiner: No, highly unlikely. They should have at least two people working shifts at the station.
Chip Mitchell: Each station?
Carrie Steiner: Yes, because when I see officers, they often do not know that they're having a trauma response or that this is even a critical incident. Because if you ask another officer, does this seem weird? They're going to say no, because I'm going through the exact same thing. So if you have a bunch of alcoholics in the room, nobody's going to think they drink too much, right? So, what I say is that it's the clinicians responsibility to point out and to try to say, hey what you've just experienced was a trauma. And let's talk about that a little bit. Or here are some skills, or here are some things that you might experience.
Chip Mitchell: Okay, so a lot of cops are politically conservative, and many mental health clinicians are highly educated and liberal. How much do these politics factor into some cops, their willingness to seek therapy and counseling?
Carrie Steiner: I absolutely think that it has a huge impact. I have heard clients tell me that they went to a clinician and if they did share that they got into a shooting, the clinician will ask them, well why didn't you shoot them in the leg? Um, so that is judgmental and that's not also, you don't know the use of force model, you don't know, we don't shoot for hands. So, um I don't think that a lot of clinicians understand how judgmental, really culturally insensitive. But I think that what even supersedes that is that officers are very worried about losing their firearm identification card and they're very worried that if the clinician thinks that they might be suicidal or have ideation or intent or a plan, that they're going to contact the state police and try to revoke their FOID card.
Chip Mitchell: Interesting. Is there any other police officer union in the country that is devoting part of its union hall to providing mental health services?
Carrie Steiner: Not that I am aware of. I think that Chicago is the first one that's doing that. Because people are still committing suicide at much higher rates in Chicago compared to any other department including L. A. and New York. This is not okay. And so that's also one reason why I'm here at the FOP, is I want people to have more access and more options for treatment rather than just the same old.
Mary Dixon: Dr. Carrie Steiner, a psychologist and former cop who oversees mental health clinicians at the FOP Lodge in Chicago, speaking with WBEZ's Chip Mitchell. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. Dial 988.
WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.