Your Health Matters


Improving law enforcement effectiveness through mental health awareness

The Kern County Sheriff's Office has received a half-million dollar grant to help the agency address the particular mental health needs of law enforcement officers.
Kern County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) Patrol Car (FILE)
Posted at 4:25 PM, May 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-05 21:29:53-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — From protecting others to protecting themselves, law enforcement personnel put their lives on the line every day. This can also take a toll on their mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Kern County Sheriff's Office has gotten some help to address how law enforcement officers' mental health is impacted by their jobs.

According to KCSO Public Information Officer Lori Meza, officers can't know for sure what they are going to encounter when they arrive on a scene.

"Mental health is really important because, if you think about the kinds of things that a deputy sees on a daily basis, you're not seeing normal things on the job," said Meza.

Meza says deputies sometimes also have to deal with losing one another.

"When we had an incident where a deputy is killed in the line of duty, people tell you, 'Well, that's expected. Isn't that something you sign up for?' The answer to that is yes, however it is still a coworker that I lost," said Meza.

KCSO also works with Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services for crisis intervention, which works with deputies to establish techniques for high-risk situations.

"Before we arrive on scene is some mindfulness, try to be in the present moment," said Unit Supervisor for the KBHRS Mobile Evaluation Team Fernanda Ramirez. "Some deep breathing, of course, when you arrive on scene, it's a crisis. You are automatically elevated and you have adrenaline rushing, and you have to make decisions in split seconds."

The mental health of law enforcement personnel can also be affected after they are off-duty.

"Deputies do deal with PTSD dealing with a lot of these traumatizing instances and situations, and this obviously affects a lot of our deputies, even after the job," said Meza. "Once they've retired, you do see a higher rate of suicide in first responders, specifically law enforcement and first responders."

According to the FBI law enforcement suicide data collection, based on data from only 22 agencies, 32 people in law enforcement died by suicide in 2022 in the United States, and 9 more attempted suicide.

Ramirez adds that it's important to take time to let out what you might have encountered.

"We come back and we debrief. We don't hold it in," said Ramirez. "We consult, and you have to get it out or it's going to stay with you."

KCSO has received additional funds to help address mental health concerns among its staff from the California Board of State and Community Corrections.

"We can now start to implement mental health awareness into the academy, so that way we don't have to wait until an incident occurs to offer peer support to a deputy," said Meza.

Meza adds that this awareness is important because it protects everyone.

"A healthier deputy is a better deputy."

The total grant amount is $501,000, and KCSO will continue to have access to it through December 2025. The sheriff's office will also provide reports as to what mental health resources they are providing with the funds.