Chicago Police

Center aims to help Chicago police officers cope with trauma, stress

"They are so overwhelmed with how much trauma they are seeing."

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From the bubbling water fountain, to the inspirational sayings and serene paintings on the walls, everything in the new First Responders Wellness Center was put in place with the mental well-being of Chicago police officers in mind.

The center is tucked away on the second floor of the Chicago Police Union building. It’s where anyone who works for the department can meet with mental health counselors, many of whom have worked as first responders themselves.

“We are trying to give them a place to let go a little bit … have a place that is quiet and confidential,” said Dr. Carrie Steiner, who runs the center.

Steiner also worked as an officer for 13 years. She’s trying to break stigma and change culture around counseling.

“I first understand the difficulties that it is to be a police officer and also how hard it is reach out for help,” she said. “They are so overwhelmed with how much trauma that they are seeing – the amount of pressure that they have from working all of the overtime as well," she said.

There’s been a concerning rise in officer suicides in the department, with at least 26 officers dying by suicide since 2018.

“You could say morale- you can say so many different things- but so many things unique to Chicago – (including) the violence,” said John Catanzara, president of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Catanzara says the center is another option for officers, who can also get counseling through the department's employee assistance program. The department also has a new mental health coordinator.

“It was a no brainer decision for us,” he said. “More options – the better.”

In recent years, many police departments across the country have created positions or offices that seek to improve officer safety and well-being- with the idea that there’s a connection between wellness and community safety.

“We have to do a lot for this community and I’m hoping the new supt. and mayor do put some effort forth toward mental health for officers,” Steiner said.

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