FRA’s inaugural event to prioritize the mental health of police professionals will be held October 29-31 in Dallas. The summit will feature a two-part preconference workshop, insightful sessions with more than 15 industry-leading speakers, and a five-star conference experience with food and beverage included with registration. Ahead of the summit, FRA spoke to a few of the esteemed speakers set to take the stage next month. Here’s a sneak peek at the important topics they plan to address.

Strategies to overcome compassion fatigue

First responders’ susceptibility to compassion fatigue, or secondary trauma, will be a pivotal focus area at the summit. During a session on the first day of the main conference, Dr. Vereen Barton, assistant chief, director of investigative & OAO services, and Corporal Alaina Gay, both from Maryland-National Capital Park Police, will discuss what compassion fatigue looks like and the tools that you can use to make it more manageable.

Barton and Gay have planned a session that not only aims to bring awareness to the impact compassion fatigue has on mental health but also provides support to those struggling.

“The stigma that’s been attached to mental health is why a lot of our officers don’t get the help they need. We want to shed a light on what it’s like out there right now and what we can do to take care of ourselves,” said Barton. “We’re trying to shatter that stigma; it’s okay to cry, to feel. Officers are sometimes expected to have that stiff upper lip, but they are human beings.”

Their presentation will also address just how critical prioritizing policing professionals’ mental health is to the quality of law enforcement they’re able to provide, added Gay. “We’re going to talk about how all of this factors into an officer’s ability to do their job and have resiliency to the longevity of the career. Depending on which area of the country you work, you may see more heinous crimes and more violence on a regular basis, and we’re going to talk about how that contributes to how the citizens are treated because officers may just be tapped out, not realizing that they are experiencing compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue can manifest in a variety of ways, from anger and hypervigilance to trouble sleeping and irritability, Barton and Gay will cover it all, alongside coping strategies and the value in addressing mental health for both personal and professional lives.

“This is a very important topic that’s not been explored enough and now it’s being brought to the forefront to understand why people behave the way they do at times and how we can handle this,” said Barton.

The Mental Health and Wellness Policing Summit

The vulnerable session, and the three-day summit as a whole, will underscore the unparalleled value in peer support, especially in current times, noted Gay.

“We’re at a time in law enforcement where everything we do is being judged, so there needs to be an avenue that’s created where this is the one space that’s open where you can just be what you need to be, express what you need to express, and be supported and not judged.”

Barton and Gay will share more about overcoming compassion fatigue during the session, Strategies to Overcome Compassion Fatigue, at 10:55 a.m. on Monday, October 30.

Mental health awareness post-retirement

The impact of policing on mental health goes beyond the time of the career, which is why continuing the conversation and awareness post-retirement is critical. Mandie Kelel, MS, marriage and family therapist, and contract therapist with the North Las Vegas Police Department, will shed light on just how important mental health awareness is post-retirement.

The stats are staggering. The average officer dies within five years of retirement; has a life expectancy 12 years less than other people; and can experience higher rates of alcoholism and suicide, explained Kelel, who is trained in critical incident stress management and has worked with the North Las Vegas Police Department for 14 years.

“A lot of officers go through potential post traumatic stress when it comes to trauma they see at work,” Kelel said. “Creating awareness of this is a way to mitigate some of the potential trauma. A lot of times trauma is formed because it feels like what they are feeling is abnormal. But there’s nothing weird about being impacted at work and what they’re feeling. What they’re feeling is a normal feeling in an abnormal situation.”

Throughout her presentation, Kelel will discuss the concerns and pressures that can come with retirement and the things law enforcement professionals can do while still working to set themselves up for success in retirement.

“It’s a career, but it’s also just one piece of your life,” she said. “There’s this human side that gets forgotten about. When I work with officers, we work on the whole person, including the human side. You're asked to put on this uniform to protect, but your human side never stops. I think that's why the idea of who you are as a full person and being a police officer is a really complex concept.”

The Women in Law Enforcement Summit

A profession in law enforcement requires a level of compartmentalization, but leaving the stress and trauma unaddressed doesn’t make it go away, explained Kelel.

“I think sometimes people are afraid that once you open all of it up and address those mental health things, then it never closes back up,” she said. “But that’s one of the things we work on in counseling- opening and releasing some of the impact of the job in sessions, but closing it after they leave, if needed. We work on compartmentalizing in a healthier way.”

Throughout her session, Kelel will spotlight actionable strategies leading up to and throughout retirement, such as a check-in process for retirees, education around relationship building and maintaining to create a strong support system, and best practices that can prepare you for a healthy retirement.

“It’s really about what to do now so that those five-year marker stats are not your fate,” she said.

Kelel’s session, The Five-Year Marker: Mental Health Awareness Post Retirement, will take place at 11:40 a.m. on Monday, October 30, the first day of The Mental Health & Wellness Policing Summit, which will be held October 29-31 in Dallas. Click here to learn more, including preconference sessions, the full conference agenda, and registration information.