Research has found that most police officers see more trauma in one month than most people do in their entire lives. Due to the amount of trauma officers witness, the internal politics and external pressures of the police job, and personal stressors, most officers have considerable stress. Officers often get “burned out” and develop poor coping and lifestyle choices, which places them at more risk of developing anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other problems. It is important for officers to recognize that officer safety begins with proactive officer wellness, which includes physical and emotional wellness.
Officers who prioritize their emotional wellness, maintain their physical health, maintain positive relationships, and find work/home balance can better enjoy their life, work and eventual retirement. However, officers often believe or are told that they cannot seek therapy as they can lose their job, FOID card or could somehow be used against them in court. Although it is important for an officer to find a therapist who understands police culture, it is also very important for officers to know the truth about mental health treatment, the loss of FOID, and fitness for duty examinations (FFDE). The following questions will address many of the fallacies about mental health treatment for officers:
If I go to therapy, will I lose my FOID card? No. According to the FOID Act (430 ILCS 65) and Illinois HB 183 (Public Act 098-0063) attending outpatient therapy does not require a therapist to report DHS FOID Mental Health Reporting System as this does not constitute “a clear and present danger”.
Pertaining to officers, the only time mental health professionals would ever be required to report to FOID is if they feel that an officer is a “clear and present danger” i.e. the officer has an active plan to kill themselves or someone else and/or is committed to an inpatient psychiatric unit. Being committed to inpatient psychiatric unit also requires an officer to be an immediate danger to themselves or others.
If I get a mental health diagnosis will I be sent for a FFDE or lose my job? No. And if you are you may have a federal lawsuit.
According to the Americans with Disability Act in 2000, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you simply because you have a mental health condition. This includes firing you, rejecting you for a job or promotion, or forcing you to take leave. The employer must have objective evidence that you cannot perform your job duties. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing these federal laws and may be contacted for violations.
A fitness for duty exam can only be requested when two requirements are met; 1) objective evidence that the employee may be unable to safely or effectively perform a defined job; AND (2) a reasonable basis for believing that the cause may be attributable to a psychological condition or impairment. The central purpose of an FFDE is to determine whether the employee is able to safely and effectively perform his or her essential job functions, not if an officer has a mental illness. Many officers (even officers who have completed a FFDE) can have a mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, etc. and work full active duty without restrictions.
Will my department find out if I go to therapy? No. The Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (740ILCS 110/1-17) and HIPPA 1996 is highly specific that "confidential communication" means any communication made by the client or other persons to the client’s therapist providing mental health services including the patient’s identity. Further, any records cannot be disclosed unless written release by the client of such records. (However, if an officer is claiming a workmen’s compensation or disability due to mental illness, records may be subpoenaed.)
Will my therapy records get subpoenaed for court? Likely No, it is extremely rare for an officer’s therapy records to be requested by subpoena or court order after police shootings, arrests, etc. as the judicial standard would be to prove “good cause” and “relevant” to the proceedings. For the last 10 years, I have never had an officer's therapy records subpoenaed for court due to actions on the job such as an officer involved shooting, arrests, etc. The client and the therapist also have the right to refuse and prevent disclosure of their client’s records in any civil, criminal, or administrative proceedings. However, if an officer is claiming a mental health condition as a defense, then records may not be confidential.
Will I be involuntarily committed if I have suicidal thoughts? No, having thoughts of suicide but no plan, intent, or action made towards killing yourself will not affect an involuntary admission. Many therapists have clients who have suicidal thoughts and work with them solely on an outpatient basis.
For further questions or concerns please contact Dr. Carrie Steiner at 630-909-9094 or Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org.