Mental health bill HB 68 for law enforcement passes in Kentucky

Mental health bill HB 68 for law enforcement passes in Kentucky

Bobby does not know why so many people have gathered at his house. He is getting anxious because he cannot find his father and he wants to play with his father’s badge, just like he does every day. The five-year-old boy is unaware that his father, police officer Jon Rhodes, committed suicide that morning. Rhodes is just one of the 108 officers who have taken this drastic step. Disturbingly, apart from suicides, law enforcement officers like him suffer from various psychological and behavioral disorders, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being the most common.

Realizing the gravity of the situation and the need for support programs law enforcement officials, the Kentucky Senate recently passed House Bill (HB) 68 to provide both mental and behavioral health support for law enforcement officials who encounter traumatic accidents or disturbing experiences during their course of work. “This is the biggest win for law enforcement in the state of Kentucky,” said Sheriff Patrick Boggs of Mason County.

Wellness program at least twice annually to every police officer in Kentucky

HB 68 was presented in the Senate by former police officer Senator Danny Carroll. Involved in a “fatality accident” that almost ended his career, the Senator was able to emphasize on the “value of this type of program”. Referring to the fateful accident, he said that, “those things do not go away” and are “very difficult to deal with”. Hence there is an urgent need for the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training to develop a law enforcement professional development and wellness program.

Past studies have established that job-related stress is more harmful for law enforcement officials compared to dealing with criminals. Police officers are exposed to extremely traumatic experiences that are not just psychologically stressful but also adversely impact their physical health. The heightened levels of stress among law enforcement officers often cause physical ailments like sleep disorders, heart diseases, diabetes, anxiety disorders, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma and mental disorders like PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation, cutting short their years of service. Studies have indicated that increased exposure to traumatic experience have resulted in 19 to 34 percent of police officers, active on the force, developing PTSD.

The purpose of introducing HB 68 was to tackle problems endured by the police force, often silently. It aimed at decreasing the detrimental mental and behavioral aftermath of the distressing experiences encountered by law enforcement officials. The wellness program will be offered at least twice annually to every police officer in Kentucky. It would include confidential counseling services, organized seminars and peer support system.

The House passed HB 68 in February 2018 with a 95-0 vote. From there, it progressed to the Senate where it was approved with a 38-0 vote in March 2018.

Mental disorders can lead to violent outbursts

The passage of HB 68 shows that the government has realized about that need of protecting the law enforcement officers. The mental health concerns of the officers are either undiagnosed or underdiagnosed owing to the associated stigma and shame. Timely diagnosis and mental health treatment for mental illnesses is crucial as untreated illnesses can manifest as drug addiction, suicidal ideation, broken families or as psychological ailments like anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, etc. which might lead to violent outbursts. Being involved in a violent or anti-social activity would increase their risk of getting entangled in the criminal justice system.

Sovereign Health’s Court Services functions as a legal support system for our patients. Though we do not provide legal counsel or representation, our representatives accompany patients to court and serve as a mediator between the judge and the district attorney to ensure that the patients receive treatment, not incarceration, for a behavioural health issue. If you or a loved one require counselling or legal representation, Sovereign Health can help. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-439-7698 to speak with our expert and get a representation.

March 30, 2018

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