May 8, 2024

Police Prioritize Mental Health Awareness and Officer Wellness

VBPD offers a variety of solutions and support to all staff in the department.

Virginia Beach police officers smiling by the beach

First responders always answer emergency calls for service. No matter the crisis, the Virginia Beach community can rely on first responders to assist. 

But who assists the first responders? 

The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) is hoping to use Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to spread the word that it is important for all employees to maintain their mental health and wellness, regardless of their position in the department. Since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month, which aims to address mental health challenges across the United States. 

“Law enforcement officers can encounter a tremendous amount of stress. It’s important that we proactively support officers and their mental health and wellness,” said VBPD Chief Paul Neudigate. 

Since joining VBPD as chief in September 2020, Neudigate has prioritized officer wellness and taken steps to improve officer wellness efforts, including the hiring of Police Wellness Coordinator Dr. Jessica Huffman in December 2023. Huffman is a rarity in law enforcement — a civilian clinician that’s directly accessible to VBPD staff. 

In just a few months, Huffman has provided many officers with support and services they need. 

“I came in here as a stranger, and people quickly began reaching out in a vulnerable way for resources and help,” Huffman said.  “It’s helped me learn what’s needed from my position, and how lucky I am to serve.” 

Huffman sees VBPD as a standard bearer in officer wellness, praising the culture among staff that see value in using mental health resources. She encourages all officers to consider reaching out to her as a resource for dealing with personal and professional challenges. 

“My goal is to find out what that looks like for you,” Huffman said. “I don’t tell everyone the same thing and I don’t give everyone the same solution. What works for you may not work for someone else.” 

VBPD offers a variety of solutions for all members of the department. Huffman holds one-on-one sessions with staff and maintains regular office hours to make herself accessible to those in need. 

“I’m fortunate enough to be able to go when someone calls me,” Huffman said. “These things don’t happen in a contained window. I don’t just exist from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” 

VBPD also gives staff access to Lexipol’s Cordico Officer Wellness App, a completely confidential and anonymous software that features resources created by clinicians and mental health experts. 

“It has a variety of resources to address a variety of concerns,” Huffman said. “It has challenges, routines and schedules, all these cool things that are self-help. You don’t have to call another person, but if you want to, the app also has that information.” 

During Mental Health Awareness month, Huffman hopes to reach officers who are hesitant to ask for help. She says that it’s normal for officers to experience cumulative trauma, unpleasant and uncertain thoughts about the future, or to be desensitized to things they see at work. 

“I know how difficult it is to get out of your own head. I know how scary it can be,” Huffman said. “There is no harm in asking. There is a lot of potential harm in not reaching out for help.” 

To learn more about how VBPD supports its officers, visit the department’s website

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