We have seen significant progress toward smashing the stigma of law enforcement mental health, but we have a long way to go. Blue H.E.L.P.’s #IWillListen campaign works to improve how law enforcement officers demonstrate their willingness and commitment to listening to others. Everyday we see an ever-increasing use of the hashtag by officers and family members in nearly every state. But there is more to listening than providing space for others to speak.
In this post I’ll share a story of a time I should have listened to the voice in my head telling me to get help and I should have listened to my friends and family who were encouraging me to get help. Mine is not a story of mental health, but physical and cardiac health. As Dr. Laura King reminds us in her book, Officer Safety Redefined, heart health is a significant risk to the safety of the law enforcement profession and a leading cause of death among active and retired officers. Heart health is influenced by several factors such as genetics, exercise, diet, and STRESS. While my health situation manifested as a physical condition it could have easily been a mental health condition I faced. Mine is a cautionary tale. We’re not invincible.
#IWillListen to Others
Actively Listen to others who have the courage to initiate a conversation.
This begins with being present in the moment. When someone has the courage to confide in us, we need to be in the moment and give our full attention to them. Don’t just listen, but HEAR every word being said. In the First HELP 3P Ready Workshops we teach the acronym “SLANT” to help remain present in the conversation.
- S – Sit to stand up straight. This subtle change in body language sends the signal that we’re paying attention. Eliminate distractions, put the phone down and move away from the computer.
- L – Look at the other person and use eye contact to reassure them that you are present for the conversation.
- A – Actively and Constructively Respond. Ensure that questions and comments build on the conversation. We should be mindful that our tone of voice and word choice encourages the other person to continue to share.
- N – Nod as appropriate. A simple gesture such as a head nod or shake is an effective way to send a message to the speaker without interrupting them.
- T – TALK. Remember to remain present and engage in the conversation.
Resist any urge you have to interrupt while they are speaking so you can hear and understand what they have to say to you.
Seek first to understand, then be understood. ~ Steven Covey
When someone brings a concern to us regarding our physical or mental health, we may feel an urge to justify or rationalize our behavior. We must remember they are offering us a gift of their time and sharing an observation with us. They have a perspective that we do not and may have seen some things we have not. We should actively engage in a conversation with them to fully understand their perspective and then, if appropriate share ours with them.
We need to take time daily to reflect and listen to our own needs both mentally and physically.
Over time, as others share their perspective with us we begin to evolve the perspective we have on a situation. We may be tempted to silence the little voice in our heads telling us that something is wrong. We can convince ourselves to push on just a little further. Much like the fuel warning light on the dashboard, that voice is there for reason and ignoring it can have significant consequences.
My Story and how I learned to say #IWillTalk
Recently, I neglected to listen to many issues my body was telling me. I put the blinders on and intentionally ignored them. I knew something was wrong, but I was in denial.
While on vacation, I knew I could not deny and ignore what my body was trying to tell me any longer. We packed up the car and made the three-hour drive to Denver and I went to the ER.
While I was being triaged, the nurse asked me a list of symptoms they thought I may be feeling and the last symptom he asked me was “or denial”. That was it. I was in denial and failed to Listen and Hear what my body has been trying to tell me for a long time.
I ended up in the cardiac ICU and was asked why I waited so long.
While laying in that bed in ICU with so many tubes hooked up to me, I had many thoughts going through my head: I’m too young for this to be happening to me. What if I went to the Dr. when I first noticed these symptoms?
While we have been making progress in mental health issues, we cannot ignore our body telling us that something is wrong. Taking care of our physical health helps with taking care of our mental health and vice versa. We owe it to ourselves and our families to LISTEN and HEAR everything our body is telling us.
Our physical and mental health are deeply intertwined and when it comes to Heart Health among Law Enforcement Professionals nearly impossible to tell where they part ways.
Everything related to our mental health and physical health needs our fullest attention!
As committed as we have been to listen it is time we make the same commitment to speaking up. Recently First HELP launched the #IWillTALK campaign to springboard off the #IWillListen Campaign and take the conversation to the next level. We must remember that a profession fully committed to listening to each other is of no value to one that is unable to talk.
Listen to the encouraging voices and then speak up – this world is better with you in it.
Brian Hill – Blue H.E.L.P. Advisory Board