Addressing law enforcement wellness through grant funding
The need for wellness programs in law enforcement is critical; for cash-strapped agencies, grant funding can be a game-changer
By Lexipol’s Grant Services division
Over the past decade, law enforcement and local government leaders have become increasingly aware of the need to address officer wellness. In part, this trend is driven by a growing national willingness to talk openly about mental health and an alarming increase in the number of people reporting mental illness. But there is also increased recognition of the unique stressors in law enforcement that contribute to mental health issues.
As with any new need, the challenge for many agencies – beyond overcoming the stigma of talking about mental health – lies in funding. That has led to a surge in law enforcement wellness grants. For agencies wishing to address officer wellness, it’s important to understand some of the mental health issues officers may face, as well as the grant opportunities agencies can tap into to help fund wellness resources.
Law Officer Wellness Challenges
Within the United States, law enforcement and the act of policing dates back to the 1600s. Originally, police forces were established to prevent gambling and prostitution. Today, the job of a law enforcement officer is vastly different. Officers are charged not only with enforcing the law and preventing crime, but often act as social workers as well. They assist the homeless, intervene in domestic arguments, oversee security at First Amendment demonstrations and respond to people in crisis. With that responsibility comes mental health challenges such as stress, exhaustion, burnout and even suicidal ideation.
While the contributors to any mental health issue are complex, we can easily identify a few common factors when it comes to the issues law enforcement officers face. They include:
- Work stress: In a 2019 study involving thousands of officers nationwide, 78% of respondents said they’d experienced critical stress on the job and 68% said the job’s stress has left them with unresolved emotional issues. In recent years those numbers have likely moved even higher, as officers deal with the effects of short staffing and negative attitudes about policing.
- Family friction: Being a law enforcement officer often means working unpredictable hours, missing holidays and family milestones. Officers also see a different side of society and humanity than their family members. As a result, it’s easy for miscommunication, anger and resentment to build up between law enforcement officers and their family members. Left unaddressed, this can contribute to anxiety and depression. It’s not a surprise that 52% of officers reported experiencing family and relationship problems.
- Disregarding emotional wellbeing: In the same study cited above, 16% of law enforcement officers reported thoughts of suicide, 15% struggled with substance abuse and 61% said they were haunted by recurring or unwanted memories of incidents. Yet in the same study, 90% said there was a stigma in law enforcement that creates a barrier to getting help for emotional or behavioral issues.
- Lack of stress-reducing outlets: For many officers, law enforcement is much more than a career; it’s an identity that can easily become all-consuming. Friends and family members are often involved in public safety themselves, creating an isolated world that can reverberate the stress. In recent years, leaders have begun to recognize the importance of helping officers cultivate hobbies, interests and time away from the job.
How Law Enforcement Wellness Grants Can Help
Although law enforcement officers face unique stressors, there are many steps agencies can take to help mitigate the dangerous effects. Support from senior leadership is critical; simply noticing and acknowledging an officer’s stress can go a long way toward mitigating it. Leaders must also strive to build a culture where personnel can talk freely without the fear of being labeled weak or being dismissed.
Going further, many agencies have begun to build formalized wellness programs. This is where grant funding can be invaluable – law enforcement wellness grants can be used for everything from purchasing fitness equipment to funding confidential, mobile resources to establishing and training peer support teams.
Agencies should prepare now for the 2024 spring release of law enforcement wellness grants. Over the last few years, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program has provided hundreds of thousands in grant funding to agencies across the country. This funding is used to develop wellness programs, increase suicide prevention and enhance peer support.
The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program is one grant to consider when considering applying for grants. However, there are additional programs available through state funding. Many states recognize the need for a comprehensive mental health and wellness program for law enforcement personnel. For example, Minnesota communities are set to receive a one-time allocation to be used specifically for public safety purposes, including first responder wellness. Texas offers the First Responder Mental Health Program every year from December to February. This is a competitive grant program that funds mental health programming focusing on increasing morale and productivity, as well as improving coping mechanisms.
Finally, there are many foundations whose main mission is to improve mental health and wellness efforts within the communities they serve. One example is the Motorola Solutions Foundation Grant Program. The next cycle opens in November 2023. Awarding up to $50,000, this grant funds first responder programming. Main focus areas include providing mental wellness and stress management training for first responders and their families and providing wellness and scholarship support to families of fallen first responders.
Steps to prepare for these and similar law enforcement grants can include the following:
- Establish the need the grant will fund.
- Outline the program focus.
- Identify key personnel who will be involved in the writing and management process.
- Ensure all portal logins required for grant submission are active. If not, request the logins at least six to eight weeks prior to the spring 2024 grant deadlines.
No Officer Is Bulletproof
The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing stated, “The ‘bulletproof cop’ does not exist. The officers who protect us must also be protected—against incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional health problems as well as against the hazards of their job. Their wellness and safety are crucial for them, their colleagues, and their agencies, as well as the well-being of the communities they serve.”
Providing wellness support for officers is possible – and for many agencies, grant funding will be key to making it happen.
About the author
Lexipol’s Grant Services division is a comprehensive resource for grant information and assistance, providing customized solutions for obtaining funding for essential equipment, personnel and consulting services. Our team of expert grants writers, researchers and project managers helps local government and public safety agencies identify relevant federal, state and private grants, craft successful grant applications, and properly manage the funds post-award.