Greetings, and I hope this finds you well. As we approach the holiday season, many of us are preparing for holiday get-togethers, family gatherings, gift-giving and reflecting on the year. However, with all the chaos that comes with the season, people can also experience anxiety and depression. The badge we wear on our chest does not provide us with immunity from worry and sorrow as we interact with the public during our shift. We all battle the same challenges as the rest of our Las Vegas community, albeit in silence while we distance ourselves and raise our internal defenses. It sometimes seems as though there is no better time to be depressed than the most wonderful time of the year.
How did we arrive at this low point? If you were to check with the CDC, Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins, they would tell you it may be seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. I’m not sure if the acronym is meant to be convenient or sarcastic. Apparently, SAD usually strikes at two distinctive times of a calendar year: spring into summer and fall into winter. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on the fall into winter phase, with possible causes including shorter days, less exposure to sunlight, increased melatonin production, colder temperatures and weight gain. Not surprisingly, most of these triggers are tied to each other. With the shorter days, we have less exposure to the sun. Although most of us look forward to a little less sun while suffering through the Las Vegas summers, the absence of sunlight correlates to the lack of vitamin D, disruption of your circadian rhythm and an interruption of serotonin levels. Changes to your circadian rhythm and serotonin level influence changes to your internal clock and mood changes. Increases in melatonin production will most likely result in altered sleep patterns. There is a reason why millions of Americans purchase melatonin supplements over the counter — it helps them sleep.
The information available about SAD is well documented and abundant on the internet. Although SAD may be a factor when officers are suffering from the “wintertime blues,” I’m inclined to believe there are other factors at play. Not only do we experience the same heartaches and troubles as the public in our personal lives, but we are also reminded of them as we respond from call to call to call. And when we aren’t trying to solve other people’s problems, we are trying to sort out our own issues over the phone as we drive to the next call. Just a reminder: Your BWC captures those conversations with your spouse, child, parent, credit card company or anyone else while you are driving. Don’t be afraid to pull over and pause the BWC for a few minutes to make that phone call private.
As we spend time with family throughout the holidays, we may find ourselves on the defensive. Typically, our family is our first line of defense and the people we should confide in as we lower our guard. However, the holidays not only bring out a certain kind of crazy, but they also tend to put us together with the aunts, uncles and in-laws we don’t see that often. As the holiday libations flow freely, everyone wants to educate you about criminal justice reform and how policing should be done. Although I personally appreciate constructive criticism, it’s difficult hearing it repeatedly from those who have never done the job. News flash: Staying up to date on current events through social media does not designate you as a subject-matter expert. I’ll have another eggnog while they have a nice big glass of “mind your damn business.”
As we enter the giving season, we also enter the spending season, with out-of-town travel expenses, Black Friday deals and spending enough on Christmas gifts for our loved ones to make up for absences throughout the year. We’re always playing catchup for the overtime, callout, shift adjusting and training on the off days. This typically leads us down one of two paths: spending all our free time working overtime or watching the credit card balance climb. Neither is particularly attractive, especially with interest rates hovering around record highs. The weight of credit card debt or the strain of trying to balance our work schedule, overtime schedule, family responsibilities and our own mental and physical health can bring us to the brink of cracking. Approximately one in four divorces stem from financial issues. Not all of the issues are directly related to credit card debt, but how finances are organized, investment practices are implemented and retirement planning is conducted all play a role. Financial concerns are also considerations in suicide. The grim feeling of believing you can’t plan for the future because you are still paying for the past makes people believe there is no hope. There is always hope.
Matters don’t improve when we get to work. If you look around your briefing room, you will notice almost every squad is short on bodies. We’re regularly allotting resources to assist with various IAPs throughout the Valley. Many of us will be working on the holiday itself, trying to manage a half-day schedule with the rest of the squad so we can either eat or open presents with the family. Not to mention we are still responding to calls for service. Citizens don’t care if you are working on Thanksgiving or Christmas. In fact, they expect you to show up and fix their problems on the holiday. They will even take time to remind you they are paying your salary to be there. What they don’t know is that you just completed PIC at a fatal traffic wreck and the holiday season isn’t going to be so festive for another family in the Valley. What they don’t know is that your first call out of briefing was for a child molest investigation and the victim was the same age as your daughter. What they don’t know is how many broken, dysfunctional and fucked-up calls we’ve been at throughout the holiday season, and we just need a break.
I am by no means a mental health expert, but I’ve been on the job long enough to experience my own peaks and valleys. I’ve missed family gatherings or left early to work on a holiday. I’ve tried to charge my way to happiness to avoid the seasonal blues and I’ve been at the 419 babies on Christmas. It sucks, but it’s part of the gig. You can’t be a rock star and not expect to go on tour. However, you are not alone. We all face these challenges. First of all, if it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for me. I can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I may not have the answer, but I promise we will find it. Secondly, PEAP is always an option. Although your conversations with PEAP are not confidential, they will put you in direct contact with a licensed professional to help you.
Stay safe and trust your training.