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March 28 2023

The Evolution of Mental Health in Policing w/ Stephanie Samuels at CopLine®

Stephanie-Samuels-coplineStephanie Samuels is a police psychotherapist as well as the Founder and Director of CopLine®, a mentor-to-peer active listening line for law enforcement and their families to reach out to during times of crisis. She has spent the better part of 35 years working with and for law enforcement and helping police officers and their families navigate the unique mental health challenges that often accompany the job.  

An Early Interest in Policing

Growing up Samuel’s father was a Federal prosecutor and upholding the law was always important within her upbringing. In her early 20’s, Samuels dated a police officer, a relationship that had a big influence on her interest in the field. As she continued her education in graduate school during her time with him, Samuels also identified that her boyfriend potentially had PTSD as a result of some of his experiences as a patrol officer. She asked if anyone had ever diagnosed him. 

His response was a simple, “No.”

Bridging the Professional Gap

This perspective gave Samuels an original interest in joining the police force; however, after witnessing the difficulties of the job during a series of ride-alongs in the LA area, Samuels realized that becoming a police officer was not her calling. However, her collection of unique experiences with law enforcement and astute observations started to come together to build a career that focused on supporting and treating police officers with mental health challenges.

“It became a larger than life piece for me to start looking at behaviors and people,” Samuels said. 

As she started participating in more ride-alongs through her work, Samuels found that not much was done to address the mental health implications of policing - and that officers had very few resources to help them after they experienced high-stress critical incidents.

“That seemed crazy to me… so that became my quest. It became my quest to change what was going on,” she said.

Samuels began teaching at the Monmouth County Police Academy after they had 2 officer suicides, which was statistically unreasonable for such a small department. Through her educational time with them she found that, for the most part, officers were more or less okay with talking about mental health and receptive to getting help if and when they needed it. 

“Three officers from that class reached out later in their careers to talk to me. So the impact was there,” she said.

The Birth of CopLine®

As Samuels continued educating more police officers about suicide prevention, a lightbulb clicked on, connecting her past, again, to her career in working with law enforcement. As a high school student, Samuels volunteered with a peer-to-peer counseling hotline for teens with an emphasis on suicide prevention and realized a similar resource would be invaluable to the law enforcement community. Her mentor from her time there was integral to creating what CopLine® is today.

At the time, Samuels was practicing in New Jersey and worked to pass legislation for a counseling line for police officers. It passed, and a state call center was created out of her efforts. After quickly realizing there was a distance and lack of trust officers had in the bureaucracy of government, she decided to break off and start her own non-profit organization to create CopLine.

Maintaining the Mission of CopLine®

Over the years, CopLine® has started to see a changing of the tides in officers that are willing and open to call and talk about their mental health, compared to the “suck it up” approach of decades past. The younger generation is particularly open, because they have been through the academies more recently when mental has been incorporated in training.

CopLine® has also been supporting officers throughout changing tides outside of policing. Just after 9/11, NYPD officers were applauded as heroes - when in reality they were doing the same job 4 days, 4 months, and 4 years prior. To them, running into danger for their community is what they are there for. Later, during COVID, they were prepared to fight the “invisible enemy.” However, what officers weren’t prepared for was the backlash after the incident involving the death of George Floyd. They were never prepared to become the enemy. 

“It’s brutal for officers themselves,” she said, “Who, no matter how much you shit on them, you spit on them, they will still protect you,” Samuels said. “No matter what.” 

In the wake of these major events, CopLine® saw an uptick in the volume of calls and the content of the calls also changed drastically. That’s why having volunteers that are trained and vetted to the ever-changing challenges police officers face is so critical to the mission of CopLine.

While CopLine® continues to grow, as a non-profit making sure training can fulfill the need while remaining financially viable has been an ongoing challenge. At any level and size of agency, the goal is for CopLine® to become part of every training at every agency - and that’s no small feat. The greatest cost is training and vetting volunteers. The volunteers, however, are the lifeblood of the organization. 

“The people that are drawn to CopLine®, who have applied and gone through this vetting and end up on these lines, I’ve never seen so many people with a servant’s heart,” Samuels said. “These individuals are drawn to their brothers and sisters with one goal: take care of their own and their families.”


What’s Next for CopLine®?

As awareness, treatment and therapies continue to progress, the outlook for officer well-being and suicide prevention is optimistic. Samuels referenced current studies on the role Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) plays in mood regulation and PTSD symptoms. (Officers tend to have a high incidence of concussions and TBIs due to the physical nature of the job.)

“We are looking at being able to finally understand a missing piece of suicide prevention which is potentially a traumatic brain injury that they sustained and never got treatment for,” she said.

“When you understand what happens with a frontal lobe injury you start understanding impulse control issues, substance abuse, cognitive disconnect, apathy… all of these things that people like myself are assigning to PTSD - a completely psychological event - rather than a comorbidity of both a physical event and a psychological event.”

In the event of a TBI, treatment and medications are different. These findings serve to help officers and their support system, including volunteers with CopLine®, understand and navigate what goes on with one living with a brain injury to get them the proper resources and treatment they need.

CopLine® continues to serve police officers and their families by helping address issues including anything from just decompressing on a drive home to a full-blown mental health crisis. If you are a member of law enforcement or a family member struggling with mental health, don’t hesitate to call 1-800-COPLINE. 

In addition to calling CopLine® you can access CopLine® directly through the RollKall app under your profile. 

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