When Pleasant Grove Police Department Lt. John Clayton was new to being a patrol officer, he was called to an emergency that he will never forget.
A young child was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident. Clayton had to deliver the news to the child’s parents. Afterward, he and the other officers went on with their shifts.
“We just buried it and went on about our day,” Clayton said.
Now, more than two decades later, that experience still haunts Clayton as he recalls the details.
According to Clayton, things have improved since that day many years ago.
“Fortunately, we are better now as far as debriefing and talking about these things,” he said. “Guys are more receptive about being honest about it. Back then, you’re a rough man and you have a rough job to do. We see a lot of traumatic stuff during our careers. For us, it’s years and years and years of stuff building up.”
Because of experiences like Clayton’s, the Pleasant Grove Police Department has recently begun “Mental Health Mondays,” a day that officers can get mental health advice, talk things out and have a listening ear.
Every Monday, a licensed therapist spends the day at the department to be on hand when needed.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Clayton said. “If they feel like they need to sit down and talk, they can do that.”
Clayton, who also wrote the mental health policy for the department, takes mental health for police officers seriously.
“I don’t want people to be like me, 28 years into the job and have a filing cabinet full of trauma to work through,” he said. “When they can do it young in their careers and keep up with their mental health stuff, maybe they won’t have issues.”
“The old school mindset was you go out on a nasty call, you rub some dirt on your wounds, then get up and go to the next one,” Clayton continued. “Now, we’re talking about how it’s affecting us emotionally, not just how things went on the scene.”
Cpl. Chris Petersen works with mental health coordination in the Pleasant Grove department, having previous mental health training before coming to Pleasant Grove just over 2 years ago.
Petersen said officers had heard about Pleasant Grove’s fire department starting up Mental Health Mondays a few months ago. He talked to members of that department and found out that some of the police officers had been going over to talk with the firefighters about what they had been learning.
Although both departments do it differently, the idea is the same — to provide mental health help for people in highly stressful and, often, emotional jobs.
“I find that a lot of times officers struggle with calls that are related to their own lives,” Petersen said. “If their son or daughter is that same age, that is difficult. Kid calls are probably the worst. They stick with us longer.”
Dr. Evan Coates, who works as a mental health therapist and is also the police department’s chaplain, volunteers his time every Monday to make himself available in case anyone would like to talk.
Coates, who has also been through the police academy, said he wants to be available to the members of the department in hopes of preventing future diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Instead of saying we can go around PTSD, let’s say let’s work through it,” Coates said.
In addition to being available to talk every Monday, Coates sends out emails once a month about mental health topics. Reading about these topics is meant to help officers better understand and deal with mental health issues found in they come into contact with while on the job.
When officers stop by to talk with him, they can discuss the topics and share ideas for emotional survival. Everything is confidential.
More work is planned for the department to ensure strong mental health. In the future, Coates said he may accompany the officers on ride-alongs — another chance to talk.