A longtime New York City and Long Island police officer is working to reshape the stigma of mental health issues in policing, calling himself “living proof” that officers can be public about their troubles and come out better on the other side. good.
Former NYPD and Nassau County police officer Tommy Shevlin, who now serves as president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, is using his platform and his own battles with depression and addiction to reshape the treatment of mental illness in the police force way of disease.
“I’m living proof that you don’t break down forever, you not only recover and survive, you can actually thrive like I did,” Shefflin told The Washington Post.
Shefflin first joined the NYPD in 1998 and, after serving seven years on city streets, joined the Nassau County Police Department, where he patrolled for an additional 10 years.
During that time, Shevlin found that the stress inherent in the job—long hours, violent encounters, public scrutiny—was overwhelming and began to seep into his home life.
“As a police officer, everyone looks to us for help. So we are almost considered to look like superheroes,” he said. “So you have to maintain this image that you’re strong and you can handle whatever’s going on.”
“I went through some tough times personally, the normal stresses of the job and then the added stress that most police officers go through. This led me to a dark place where I started drinking heavily and suffered from depression. ,”He said.
“I was in a really bad situation in my life. Then I turned it around and finally got help through the Nassau County Police Department Employee Assistance Office.”
According to the PBA, the suicide rate among law enforcement officers is a staggering 60 percent higher than the general population, and 65 percent of officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to violence encountered on the job.
Shevlin believes these dire numbers are a product of an “old-school mentality” about mental health that pervades police departments, forcing officers to “nervously” solve problems until they can’t handle things anymore.
“Let’s say you’re injured on the street as a police officer, you hurt your leg, your back. Everyone gives you a chance to get better… You’re recovering and all your colleagues are reaching out to see How did you do,” Shevlin explained.
“But when it comes to mental health, it’s just unknown and everyone avoids you like the plague. No one knows what to say to you, how to say it, and it kind of isolates you. So no one wants to be That kind of person.
“So most people, most police officers, they get nervous and they don’t get help, right?” he added. “That’s why you see these alarming statistics, especially when it gets so bad that it amounts to suicide.”
After experiencing the chaos firsthand, Shefflin finally found the courage to seek help and decided to share his experience in hopes of helping other officers going through the same thing who might not otherwise seek help.
“I started telling my story everywhere to make them realize that we are human beings and that if one or a few of them are going through something similar, they are not alone,” Shevlin said.
“I want to normalize mental health, like getting help, like people will say, ‘Oh yeah, I have a doctor’s appointment today…whatever,’ and I want them to be able to talk about going to counseling, Like it’s not a big deal anyway.
“It’s actually pretty normal for the work we do to need to talk to someone because the things we witness every day are far from normal. We’re human.”
After retiring from the streets, Shefflin served as a consultant for the Nassau Police Department and traveled around the state to conduct training and share his story. Now, as PBA president, he’s launching a mental health campaign with lawmakers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who recently earmarked $13 million to provide psychiatric support to New York police officers, praised Shefflin’s work as one of the driving forces behind the program.
“I now have a platform to meet with elected officials,” he said. “I’ve met with the governor a few times. I’ve been meeting with the senators and the Assembly and I’m trying to get them to make the changes and get them into law.”
Shefflin’s current priority is to standardize mental health training for all police departments in the state, and he is working with lawmakers on a series of bills aimed at achieving that goal.
Meanwhile, Shevlin has managed to save lives.
“One of the best things that happened in my career was receiving a thank you card from a police officer’s children saying thank you for saving my dad,” he said.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can get free and confidential crisis counseling by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.