CHAMPAIGN, Ill., (WCIA) — On Tuesday, the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) sponsored a law enforcement officer wellness support event at the I-Hotel in Champaign.
More than one hundred officers were there to learn and a dozen mental health organizations were there to provide support.
Jim Page, executive director of ILEAS, was a police officer with the Urbana Police Department before working with ILEAS. He wished he had this support available during his career.
“Back then it was just put up with it, shut up, move on to the next call, you’re a tough guy. Well, that just doesn’t work because you’re internalizing all of that trauma. You are kinda soaking up everybody else’s emotional issues,” he said.
He said police officers see things no one should ever have to deal with. In fact, Bill Kushner, a retired police officer from Des Plaines, IL, said the average person experiences two to four critical traumatic events in their lives. Law enforcement officers experience 400 to 600.
Rick Longstreth, owner of Inspiring Enterprises and director of operations with the Mental Health Wellness Center specializes in working with trauma and first responders. He said the suicide rate for officers is high and wants to help lower it.
Longstreth said in the last two years, his wellness center has grown from having two clinicians to 16. The center helps to “deal with the traumas, dig up the stuff, deal with it, process it, understand it, fix it,” he said.
Amber Oberheim knows all too well about dealing with trauma. Her husband, Chris Oberheim, was shot and killed in May 2021 while serving with the Champaign Police Department. Now, she works to support others with her group Peacemaker Project 703.
“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what our family went through. If I can be willing to be a part of that assistance or provide that to one of the officers that needs it, that’s all we really need,” she said.
Kushner was also one of the organizers with the group “We Never Walk Alone.” He was one of the visionaries behind their app and website that connects officers to counselors and peer supporters in their state. For more information or to download the app, visit their website.