MPD invests $150,000 into employee mental health

MADISON, Wis.– Cities, including Madison, are taking close looks at their police department budgets, but Madison Police Department viewed a six-figure item as a must have in 2021.

MPD is partnering with a local psychotherapy practice to support the emotional well-being of their employees. All employees, both civilian and sworn, are required to take one mental health day this year and spend one hour of that day getting a wellness check.

“Sometimes there’s a stigma that might be associated with reaching out for help or asking for support,” Interim Chief Vic Wahl said. “We want to remove that and basically say everybody is doing that.”

The department set aside $150,000 for this program and contracted Westside Psychotherapy. Owner Sandra Eugster said her practice aims to eliminate those stigmas for everyone.

“Every occupation, every life has challenges for mental health, and our hope is to be able to remove the barriers that might exist for employees in law enforcement seeking assistance if they need it,” Eugster said.

All conversations are kept confidential and employees can talk about whatever they choose. Although, Eugster said a wellness check typically identifies stressors and ways to relieve them.

“In this line of work, we’re talking about vicarious trauma, we’re talking about the stress of always being in an alert state, hypervigilance,” Eugster said. “We’re talking about shift work. There are sleep disruptions. We’re talking about interpersonal issues in the workforce.”

Both Eugster and Wahl are confident that even eliminating some stress will help employees do better at work.

“Not only does that impact the officers and their long-term life, but it can impact the community, because it impacts how they do their jobs,” Wahl said.

The program was supposed to begin last year, but the pandemic forced MPD to spend the funding elsewhere. During budget negotiations this year, the police department chose to make mental health days a priority again.