The Madison Police Dept. is requiring annual mental health checks for all employees

The dept. allocated $150,000 of its budget to give each employee a mental health day once a year.
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 6:27 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Starting this year all Madison Police Dept. officers and civilian staff will get a day dedicated to mental health.

The department allocated $150,000 to give every employee one paid day off and partnered with Westside Psychotherapy in Madison to require a wellness check. After an employee checks in with a therapist, they are free to spend the rest of the day focusing on their well-being.

Psychologist and Westside Psychotherapy Owner Sandra Eugster said the initiative was supposed to start in 2020, but was pushed back because of the pandemic.

“This line of work is incredibly stressful its very difficult and has some particular challenges that are unique,” she said.

Eugster said 12 therapists are volunteering to speak with MPD staff to talk about stressors and coping mechanisms.

“We are able to potentially offer ideas around coping strategies that will be effective, that will help them do their jobs more skillfully,” she said.

Sgt. Sarah Shimko, who leads up the department’s mental health unit, said this provides recognition self care is important.

“There’s no pressure in terms of what is expected to be talked about, any expectations of additional sessions. It’s just, hey, this works for some people give it a try,” Shimko said.

She said she hopes it helps normalize getting this kind of help.

“Just trying to be supportive and create an environment where they feel like they can take a day off and can put themselves first,” Shimko said.

From the COVID-19 pandemic, racial unrest and the election, Eugster said this is a time of high stress for everyone and a check-in can help work through that.

“I think all of these skills around emotional regulation, around knowing how to stay calm in difficult situations, anything that we can contribute to reinforce their abilities in that regard really helps us all,” she said.

MPD recruits go through over 100 hours of de-escalation and mental health training preparing to respond to someone in crisis. The department’s mental health unit was created in 2015 to specifically address these types of calls.

If anyone is struggling and needs help, you can also contact these numbers:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK

Hopeline Text Service: Text HOPELINE to 741741

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