“You always remember the names, their faces,” he said. “To the day you die, you can go back and relive those events.”
Personally threatening incidents such as “being in a physical altercation with somebody twice your size,” along with more routine job stressors that can weigh on families such as working midnight or swing shifts and holidays, or missing a kid’s birthday or Christmas can take a toll, Cicardi said.
Those experiences might manifest in an officer being angry or suffering insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, or a loss of appetite.
“I’d be willing to bet, just looking out here, there’s a large percentage of those who have PTSD” that is either diagnosed or undiagnosed, he told the assembled officers.
“The years and years of cumulative stress add up,” Cicardi said. “We can fix ourselves. But we are broken.”
The panic attack from the imagined plane crash made him feel like he was going to die, he said.
Moreover, the deputy said he doesn’t like to drive on Middle Grove Road in Greenfield because it makes him revisit a fatal crash to which he was the first to respond.
PTSD that’s left untreated can result in problems for years, said Cicardi, who admitted that, despite his seemingly “perfect life” with a longtime wife and two beautiful daughters, and not having to worry about money, he’s had suicidal thoughts tied to being tired.
“When you’re exhausted to your core, the thought of like eternal rest doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, even describing the beautiful spot in the woods he had picked as the setting.
But Cicardi said he got help, and he spoke of the importance of positive coping strategies for officers. He said he shelters his wife from all the gory details of the emergencies to which he’s responded.
But in the same way that officers get annual physicals, he said it’s important to find somebody on which to “unload” those experiences at least once a year.
Likewise, officers shouldn’t be afraid to call their employee assistance program. The confidential, peer counseling for mental health and substance abuse issues from “tried and true professionals” can be a huge thing for officers because, if the counselor isn’t understanding, it can be hard to get the officer to open up.
“If they talk to someone who doesn’t understand police, you’ll forever gonna lose that cop,” he said.
“You try to actually get some help for yourself and then find out, ‘By the way, we’re taking your firearms, you can’t really have a job anymore,’ because you went for help,” he said.
While most cops tend to hang out together early in their careers, Cicardi said he found it helpful to have a social life outside of law enforcement.
He urged officers to find pastimes such as volunteering, coaching, along with taking up hobbies and attending church. This is a way to stay grounded and see the world how others view it, and not from an officer’s sometimes jaded perspective.
He also encouraged the officers to decrease their consumption of alcohol.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.