Mundelein police retool wellness program to include mental health
Besides a mandatory physical fitness assessment, Mundelein police officers are required to meet with a psychologist as part of the department's retooled wellness program.
The program also provides speakers for officers and their families to learn about financial health and nutrition, for example.
It is the required mental health checkup with a licensed professional that is considered ahead of the curve. One-on-one, 55-minute sessions are meant as an outlet for officers to discuss unique stresses and pitfalls of the profession, such as divorce, alcoholism or suicide, Police Chief Eric Guenther said.
"The whole focus is to provide the officer with tools and techniques to manage stress better," he said.
"I've got a union here. To get them to agree to see a psychologist once a year is groundbreaking," he said.
Officer Chris Callas, a 19-year veteran and steward for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police union, said its attorney had no issues with the sessions.
"It's definitely something no other department has seen and it's something new -- the whole thing (wellness program)," Callas said. "I, for one, enjoy it."
Guenther is among the speakers May 24 and 25 at a seminar hosted by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police on bridging the gap between law enforcement and mental health professionals.
Also presenting is Carrie Steiner, a clinical psychologist and former Chicago police officer and owner/founder of First Responders Wellness Center in Lombard. She does police, fire and public safety psychological evaluations and conducted the sessions with Mundelein police.
Steiner said she has done individual wellness checks, but Mundelein was the first complete department and the most comprehensive in terms of preventive measures for mental health.
Departments are trying to figure out what they can do as the police chief association is recommending annual health wellness checks and checks after a critical incident within 72 hours, a week, a month, six months and a year, she said.
She stressed that a mental health wellness check is not a fitness for duty or psychological evaluation but intended to acquaint officers with a mental health professional and be a resource for them.
"I talk to them about having an 'emotional tool belt' just like they have a duty belt with lots of tools on it," she said. "I want them to feel confident that whatever situation they are in they have multiple options to handle the situation."
That includes preparing to handle a critical incident, how they might feel afterward and how they might respond to or notify their families.
She said nearly all officers say they have been trained extensively on what to do tactically or by department regulations on a shooting or critical incident but don't think about how their own families might feel or help they may need.
"It was a bit funny for us because we were told by many that officers would not talk to us, but that was not our experience at all, and we often had to let them know their time was up," Steiner said.
Callas said the program is "pretty well received" among the four dozen patrol officers. No notes were taken during the sessions and only a signature to show participation was required. Supervisors and Guenther also met with Steiner.
"Why do it?" Guenther asked.
"Look around the country at the focus on officer action or relationships with communities. These type of programs operate from the idea of health police officers translate into healthy relationships with our community," he said.