After the attacks on 9/11, I provided Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) services for a variety of private companies. In one case, I ended up staying a week – not just because of the attacks, but because the company was undergoing a merger. Employees were on edge because some were likely going to lose their jobs. Middle management literally felt caught in the middle between justifying executive decisions while fielding employee complaints. I was struck by how little the company seemed to consider the emotional toll the merger would have. (Did I mention this was a healthcare company?)
This happens a lot in our society, and not just in the corporate world. While the US House and the media have been fixated on justice for the January 6th attacks, not a single member of Congress appears to care about the mental health of the US Capitol Police (USCP) officers to whom they profess gratitude.
As a clinical social worker for almost 30 years, including the Army, I know the long-term impact trauma can have on the brain. Therefore, it is imperative that a team of licensed professionals with CISM training deployed to the site immediately after a crisis. It’s now been over a year. Not only has there not been adequate crisis interventions, but the officers haven’t been taught to expect “normal reactions to an abnormal situation” or how to appropriately cope.
This is tantamount to leaving an officer on the floor bleeding. Because of inadequate support and agency dysfunction, the USCP officers are being perpetually retraumatized, like tuning forks being repeatedly slammed against a table before having the chance to stop vibrating. So it is not surprising that a year later, officers are still experiencing depression, guilt, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and anger outbursts.
This is what happens in a society that ignores mental health. As one of my Army commanders said to me as I was adjusting from civilian to military life, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” On behalf of mental health experts everywhere, I’m warning you this country is self-destructing because of what you – its leaders, media, and public – don’t know. The evidence is all around us – and all of us are responsible for it.