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Tri-State Area law enforcement agencies renewing efforts to highlight mental health resources

Law enforcement agencies highlight available mental health resources
Law enforcement agencies highlight available mental health resources 03:42

NEW YORK -- For years, some organizations have been sounding the alarm about a growing epidemic -- serious mental health issues suffered by some first responders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found work stress in first responders can be associated with elevated risk for suicide, anxiety, depression and other issues.

Local law enforcement agencies are now renewing efforts to highlight mental health resources available to officers.

"Cops deal with significant traumatic events ... You don't realize how it effects you until a lot of times it's too late," said Brian Weitzman, a former sergeant with the Passaic County sheriff's office for more than 17 years.

It was almost too late for Weitzman.

"I'd be in morning line-up asking everyone, 'Is everyone OK?'" he said.

As for himself, Weitzman says, "I didn't know who to go to. I didn't know who to talk to. I was at my weakest point in my life ... The hardest part is just trying to keep yourself in one piece, and it's the one thing that people don't want to talk about. It's a stigma. You talk, you get the rubber gun squad."

"We pride ourselves on when we lower crime. We pride ourselves when we lower car thefts. But we just can't seem to get a handle or understand why these decisions of suicide are being made," New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association President Pat Colligan said.

Colligan says in 2018, 16 of the PBA's members died by suicide. In 2019, that number dropped to seven, then rose to eight in both 2020 and 2021. In 2022, 17 PBA members died by suicide, and in 2023, the number dropped slightly to 12.

"The pressures from the public and the pressures from our agency sometimes become too much," Colligan said.

"Today, law enforcement have many stressors -- the battle on the war on drugs, the battle on terrorism and crime, but we're under such a focus that it's creating so much stress," said Joe Occhipinti, executive director of the National Police Defense Foundation.

"In a job that, when I started was, you're a very well-respected person. People wanted to talk to cops. They wanted to be your friend. Now, it's the opposite," Weitzman said. "People forget we're human. Cops are human beings, and they have a life. They have children, they have marriages, they have relationships, they have loss."

A study published by the National Institutes of Health found law enforcement personnel are 54% more likely to die by suicide than people with other occupations, citing exposures like witnessing death, violence, abused children and human misery.

Weitzman says he finally sought help. His only regret is that he didn't do it sooner. He now speaks to current law enforcement officers about his experience. His message:  You are not alone. Talk to someone.

"Just that one phone call for an hour, weekly, makes a huge difference because you're able to tell someone that, this is what I have going on and they're able to give you a real answer how to deal with it," he said.

"There are many nonprofits, including the [National Police Defense Foundation], that has a network of psychologists and psychiatrists who would be more than willing to help," Occhipinti said.

"At state PBA, we have seven, eight therapists on call. We have a fulltime psychologist," Colligan said.

Weitzman who also taught criminal justice at a local university says he would always tell his students, "When you identify as a man or a woman or a person as a human first and as a cop second, your life will be better."

Weitzman says sometimes it's easier to talk to a fellow or former officer who can really relate to things you've seen. Cop2Cop is a 24-hour peer support network that can be found by visiting

For a list of additional mental health resources and assistance, click here.

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