Public safety officer wellness checks
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Our Wellness Check Process
This stage warms up staff to the idea of yearly wellness checks. We will hit this component from multiple angles. First, Dr. Ajayi and Dr. Tarescavage will each spend one day every year participating in Roll Calls, Meet/Greets, and/or Ride Alongs at the department. Second, prior to their wellness checks, all staff will watch a very brief 5-minute video orientation to the process by Dr. Tarescavage or Dr. Ajayi (video will be from whoever will be doing their check). Third, Dr. Ajayi and Dr. Tarescavage will each develop at least one 45-minute training for officers as part of the educational effort (described in more detail later). Finally, both Dr. Tarescavage and Dr. Ajayi are experts at quickly developing rapport with people in session. This ice breaking process with multiple touch points will efficiently orient and introduce the evaluators to all staff in a systematic manner.
Education is one of the most effective ways to help people in the long run. As the old parable goes— Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Thus, the educational component of this program will help teach long-term skills while also being another way for the department staff to get to know the psychologists who will be serving them.
We are willing to work with the department to develop trainings on topics of interest, but three possibilities are:
• 45 Minute General Public Safety Officer Wellness Workshop (Video)
• 45 Minute Public Safety Officer Wellness and Use of Force Workshop (Video)
• 45 Minute Public Safety Officer Wellness and Crisis Intervention Workshop (Video)
A video is preferred over an in-person event because it is a more efficient way to deliver training to all staff, regardless of their availability. To ensure compliance, videos will be delivered via a platform that tracks engagement. Staff will enter in their name and email address into the player before watching the video. Our administrative coordinator will be able to track if staff watch the entire video or not. Reminders will be sent for staff who have not watched the trainings by the mutually agreed upon deadline. Please see here for an example of how these trainings will be engaging and of the highest quality: https://www.clevelandtesting.com/services/workshop/
Wellness Check Meetings
It is an odd thing that the psychological screening process for public safety officers ends when they are hired. Officers may be psychologically healthy when they begin their career with the passing of the pre-hire screening process, but virtually all officers are likely to experience at least some sort of mental health problem over the course of their careers. This is particularly true now with the increase in demands on public safety officers over the past decade. This is what leads me to propose an innovative wellness check process that incorporates assessment, treatment, and prevention.
Prior to each staff member’s wellness check, they will view a 5-minute video explaining the wellness check process and the confidentiality protections. As noted earlier, this video will be created by their evaluator (either Dr. Tarescavage or Dr. Ajayi). They will next complete a comprehensive psychological assessment. They can choose to take the MMPI-3 (25-35 minutes) or the briefer SPECTRA (5-15 minutes). Staff who value a deeper dive into their mental health would benefit from the MMPI-3, whereas those who value their time more would benefit from the SPECTRA. Both of the tests can be completed on any device with an internet connection and information will be stored in our HIPAA-compliant cloud account. Finally, prior to the meeting, staff members will be asked to identify 1-3 sources of stress that they have experienced over the past year. This could be a specific incident at work, an ongoing situation, something from their home life, or anything else that is causing them stress. In total, the pre-session questionnaires will take about 30-45 minutes. The evaluator will review the testing and the stressors before their meeting with the officers.
The wellness check will last 50 minutes. Staff will have the option to complete the assessments virtually by telehealth or in-person at my office in Middleburg Heights.
The first part of the meetings will be a review of the informed consent process. Staff will be informed that their information is private and that only their attendance at the appointment will be shared with the department.
Second, using the MMPI-3 or the SPECTRA results as a guide, we will conduct a brief diagnostic assessment. For example, if the staff member reports depression on the MMPI-3, then we will assess for a depressive disorder. I expect that in most cases staff will evidence no problems on the MMPI-3 so this will typically be a relatively brief portion of the meeting, lasting no more than 5-10 minutes. However, when clinically significant problems are indicated by the MMPI-3, the diagnostic assessment could be 20-30 minutes. Of note, only PhD-level psychologists are qualified to interpret comprehensive assessments such as the MMPI-3. Furthermore, the biggest difference between the training of Master’s level and PhD-level clinicians is PhD clinicians get significantly more training on assessment of mental disorders. Finally, it is important to note that both Dr. Tarescavage and Dr. Ajayi were trained at Kent State University by the creators of the MMPI instruments. We are both experts in psychological assessment.
Third, in the next phase of the meeting, we will review the staff member’s stressors. We will listen empathically to their concerns, give basic tips from psychology, and help with problem solving. This phase of the meeting will be anywhere from 15-40 minutes, depending on the amount of diagnostic assessment. Staff members will be informed beforehand that we may not get through all of their stressors.
Finally, we will make recommendations. These can range from basic self-care strategies up through seeking outside psychological counseling. If the staff member meets criteria for a mental disorder, we will tell them their diagnosis and the best counseling for their specific problem. We will give guidance on what to target in counseling. All officers will receive a personalized mental health plan by email after the meeting. This will include, for example, the self-care tips we reviewed or, in more serious cases, referrals to mental health providers and explanations about the best forms of treatment for their problems.
The goal of this program is four-fold: 1) to conduct a routine assessment for mental health problems, 2) to provide routine mental health care, 3) to be a bridge toward outside mental health treatment to prevent future problems, and 4) to de-mystify and de-stigmatize mental health treatment by giving all staff a positive experience with a mental health provider. You will not find a more innovative, comprehensive, and cost-effective process.
The culture of an organization has a major impact on a staff member’s mental health. As a psychologist working for Google, Dr. Ajayi observed that there were major opportunities to improve workplace culture at the organization, particularly among workers in blue-collar positions. He brought these concerns to Google leadership and they literally created a leadership position designed for him to execute his vision for improving workplace culture. As a global program manager and mental health specialist at Google, Dr. Ajayi is a subject matter expert for the Google US Benefits team. The workplace culture at your department may already be strong but Dr. Ajayi can leverage his expertise to further improve the culture as it relates to optimizing mental health. Included in this proposal is 8 hours of consultation with Dr. Ajayi per year for this purpose.
Prior to the wellness checks, all officers could be administered a very brief battery of questionnaires online in a way that protects their privacy. The questionnaires could ask about expectations about the program. After the wellness checks, the same battery could be administered to assess change before and after the wellness program. This information could be used for research on a pilot program for the development of best practices in wellness checks. Dr. Tarescavage and Dr. Ajayi could publish this research in high impact police psychology journals to maximize the impact of this program to a national level. This could generate positive press for the how the Department is being run under your leadership. By extension, it would improve public trust in the office. In this way, the impact of the program extends far beyond the staff being evaluated!