Ken Beyer can’t think of a day in the past few months when he didn't get calls, text messages, and emails from a police department, a sheriff’s office, or a fire station seeking help for an employee. Cases included a patrol officer threatening to kill himself with his service weapon before roll call, a veteran firefighter drowning in vodka until he collapses, and a deputy overdosing on fentanyl in his squad car. "It’s the worst that I’ve seen in my career,” said Beyer, co-founder and CEO of Harbor of Grace Enhanced Recovery Center, a private mental health and substance use recovery and treatment center for first responders in the waterfront Maryland town of Havre de Grace. Established in 2015, Harbor of Grace is one of only six treatment centers in the U.S. approved by the Fraternal Order of Police, Kaiser Health News reports. Public safety is a profession plagued by high rates of mental health and addiction problems. Considering the unrelenting pressures on first responders, Beyer said, the treatment centers can’t keep up with the demand.
Specialized recovery facilities like Harbor of Grace focus on treating law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and dispatchers — people who regularly encounter violence and death at work. In the past two years, the number of police officers admitted for treatment at Beyer's facility has more than tripled. Anger at police and policing practices soared after a Minneapolis officer murdered George Floyd in 2020, putting more strain on officers’ mental health, said Dr. Brian Lerner, a psychiatrist and the medical director at Harbor of Grace. “Officers feel disparaged by the public and often, they also feel unsupported by their agencies,” he said. That’s part of the reason “we’re looking at a significant rate of burnout among police officers,” said Jennifer Prohaska, a clinical psychologist in Kansas City, Ks.,, who focuses on helping law enforcement personnel. The poor state of many officers’ mental health, combined with low morale, has contributed to an exodus of police that has left departments understaffed and the remaining officers overworked and exhausted. Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix, and Dallas are hit particularly hard by officer shortages.