Police Perspective: The Man in the Mirror

By Mark DiBona | Jun. 03, 2016

My lifelong dream was to be a cop, and I started on the job at age 21. I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and a supervisor for 17.

About eight years ago, I was going through tough times at work. I wasn’t getting along with my immediate supervisor. We were both alpha males, but we had different styles of working and supervision. He was hard-headed and strict, and I tried to be approachable to my team. I felt he was disrespectful. We became argumentative, insulting each other. He told me I wasn’t aggressive enough, that I had to be harder on my team. He gave me an evaluation of “below standards.” I felt worthless, like maybe he was right, maybe this job wasn’t for me anymore. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right.

This went on for a few months. It affected me physically. I gained 40 pounds. I refused to shave. I started coming in wrinkled uniform. I didn’t go to my wife for help. I thought, “If you aren’t a cop, you don’t understand.” The stigma is if you show a weakness, if you say something’s bothering you, they look at you like you are weak.

With all this happening, one night I am at the fire station, when a woman pulls up in her car. She cried, “My baby isn’t breathing!” Just before she pulled up, the firefighters had gone out on a call, so I did CPR on the baby for what seemed like an hour.

The baby died. I went to the funeral and the wake. I started to get nightmares about him, like maybe I could have done better. I can still feel that baby in my arms.

I told my boss, and he said, “You were just doing your job,” as if it wasn’t a big deal.

I started feeling more worthless. I had lots of nightmares, waking up in cold sweats. I started thinking about the baby that died, and all the other stuff I’ve seen came up too: horrible crashes, victims of sexual abuse, victims of robbery, bad guys, friends who died in the line of duty. I thought, “I don’t want to be a cop anymore because this line of work sucks.” One night, it hit me: This job is not for me; I’m failing really fast. I tried to fight the thoughts, but I felt like I was drowning. I attempted suicide twice that night.

I got lucky. A car pulled up, and it was another cop. He talked me down. I went home because I couldn’t go back to work that night. I was afraid of losing my job. I thought they would take away my gun and put me in the hospital.

I called a close friend in Boston. He wanted me to come there to get help. I went to Massachusetts and got therapy and went back to Florida a week and half later. I bounced back and forth between therapists. It wasn’t clicking because the therapist didn’t have any police background. I didn’t go to the employee assistance provider because they are countywide, not specialized to police. I just wasn’t in my comfort zone.

It was a difficult time in my life. I saw a person in me that I’d never seen before. There’s that Michael Jackson song, “The Man in the Mirror.” When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like the guy I saw. I didn’t like his looks; I didn’t like him. I felt weak. I knew in my heart that something was wrong, but it was hard to accept when I was diagnosed.

I stopped going to therapy, and I started looking online. I found fascinating articles about police mental health, suicide, stigma and an organization called The Badge of Life. I never realized that support was out there. I had a friend, a fellow officer, who died by suicide, but I thought it was just a family problem.

I started to go to a support group in central Florida, just cops talking to cops. I found a therapist who was a retired cop. During all this, I got my marriage back on track. I felt guilty about the way I had treated my wife, and I apologized. She had felt helpless. She was trying to get me help, but I wouldn’t take it.

I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I’m on medication, which has helped me to focus. I was concerned about the meds—could I still be a cop? But I can; it’s not a problem. I’m still an active deputy sheriff.

I’ve never had a suicidal thought since. I still have nightmares, but not as much as I used to. I feel a lot better. I lost the weight I gained. I don’t let it ruin my everyday life, ruin my job, ruin my marriage. On the days when I feel down, I’ve learned to control that—the anxiety, depression and PTSD.

The biggest problem I have now is the stigma. When I’m open about it, my colleagues look at me funny. But there are others. When some people hear my story, they come to me and say, “Can I talk to you for a second?” There’s nothing better than helping another cop through the issues that I experienced.

I really enjoy my life now, when for years I didn’t. I still love being a cop.

 

Mark DiBona is a deputy sheriff in central Florida and is on the board of directors of The Badge of Life, an organization dedicated to preventing police officer suicide. 

Comments
Kim
Thank you for this awesome inspiring story. I am the wife of a police officer who I believe has suffered mentally from his job. He is always very stressed out and angry. He blows up for no reason. He never talks to me at all. He has no empathy for me while I am physically ill. He is extremely sarcastic. Would you please tell me if you experienced any of these symptoms? Our marriage has been in turmoils for years. I would like to help him but don't know how as he won't see a psychologist out of the fear of losing his job. Please help us.
10/28/2016 5:51:37 PM

Tanya
Thanks for sharing your story. It gives me hope!!!
7/20/2016 10:34:45 PM

Bridget
God Bless You! You have shown such honorable courage by sharing your story with the world. I pray that it will reach and guide other officers to follow. I hope and pray it will have an positive impact on decreasing police brutality with the mentally ill. My son has been a victim of brutality and injustice numerous times. He was tasered in the back of his head, beaten beyond recognition and hospitalized several times. Prolonged and denied medical treatment for a fracture and numerous bites to his arm by a police dog. Then wrongfully incarerated eachtime. Every event transpired from a need or 911 call for help with a mental health medical crisis. The dog mauling occured in his own bedroom where he was lieing down with shoes off when the police approached his door. Their lack of empathy and knowledge to what a person goes through with a mental illness is what causes these type of cruel inhumane avoidable incidents. Your story absolutley sheds some insight into what im sure many officers deal with. It certainly makes why thry treat people with illnesses so bad. They are suffering themselves and pride wont let them see throught it. Its a very frightening reality but a much needed one. I really wish their were more officers like you that realize your only human and courageous enough to take a stand. Your a hero in my eyes. May God Bless You. May he bless comfort and heal all those who suffer from mental illness. Thank you.
7/20/2016 10:31:55 AM

M. FEE
I have seen and witnessed completely unwarranted tasings. One example, of sheer laziness and brutality. My friend who worked at a hospital related nursing home told me a horrific story one day with tears rolling down her face. A harmless 86 year old man with dementia and a veteran who was paying for his stay there would sometimes go into catatonic states for a short spell them snap out of it. Well, one day he just froze up at lunch with a plastic fork in his hand and was unresponsive. This frail man could have easily been physically handled, however, the police were called in by a new staff member who was still in training. Guess what happened? The old man was tased by two large officer's and he fell and hit his head. Two month's later he died. We've got a serious problem on our hands folk's. All lives matter to me.. That's like using a sledge hammer to drive a pin nail into paneling.
Lord help us..
7/18/2016 4:24:25 PM

Y. Brown
I am not in law enforcement, but I can relate to your story. Thank you so much for sharing it.
7/11/2016 11:34:48 AM

Warren Goff
I would appreciate your opinion on the use of tasers on the mentally ill who present a threat to themselves but not others. People have died after excessive and punitive tasing. What is your department policy? Are you an advocate for the mentally ill? You could have been tased during your suicidal gesture. The police are the first responders to a mental health crisis and this has been a death sentence for some. I would hesitate to call them. Do you feel that pervasive stigmatization in law enforcement contribues to the wreckless use of tasers and excessive force in these situations. They seemed to have ostracized one of their own in your case.
7/7/2016 1:44:57 PM

Warren Goff
I would appreciate your opinion on the use of tasers on the mentally ill who present a threat to themselves but not others. People have died after excessive and punitive tasing. What is your department policy? Are you an advocate for the mentally ill? You could have been tased during your suicidal gesture. The police are the first responders to a mental health crisis and this has been a death sentence for some. I would hesitate to call them. Do you feel that pervasive stigmatization in law enforcement contribues to the wreckless use of tasers and excessive force in these situations. They seemed to have ostracized one of their own in your case.
7/7/2016 1:44:31 PM

Warren Goff
I would appreciate your opinion on the use of tasers on the mentally ill who present a threat to themselves but not others. People have died after excessive and punitive tasing. What is your department policy? Are you an advocate for the mentally ill? You could have been tased during your suicidal gesture. The police are the first responders to a mental health crisis and this has been a death sentence for some. I would hesitate to call them. Do you feel that pervasive stigmatization in law enforcement contribues to the wreckless use of tasers and excessive force in these situations. They seemed to have ostracized one of their own in your case.
7/7/2016 1:44:00 PM

Justin Ensinger
I started as a cop when I was 22 and ended it when I was 23 for all of these reasons. It has taken almost ten years to overcome the trauma that I experienced in that one year. This brought tears to my eyes and I didn't even cry when my two boys were born. Thank you for sacrificing your life (without losing it) for my safety.
6/30/2016 9:24:21 AM

Day
Mark, reading your story has meant so much to me. My father was in the NYPD for 17 years. Like you, his dream was to become a police officer to serve and protect his community, and he was disappointed to encounter officers who thought that they needed to act insensitive and indifferent to the impact of the job. He retired due to injuries sustained in the line of duty, but the thing that takes the greatest toll on him is the years of unacknowledged and unexpressed grief and pain for the things he saw. He has often told me that officers were expected to 'deal' in silence or risk losing their livelihood. We have always hoped that this damaging culture in the police force would change so that officers could get the support they deserve for the difficult and vital work that they do. This change starts by sharing these stories, and because you have shared yours, you have saved more lives that you will ever know. Thank you for being a leader and helping to blaze a healthier path for law enforcement, their families, and all that they serve.
6/30/2016 9:20:10 AM

M. FEE
Good story and glad that you were finally able to get the support that you needed. It's difficult work and sounds like you were just becoming more mature as an officer and unfortunately got a horrible supervisor who did the opposite of what he was supposed to do as a supervisor. I experienced this myself and worse in my former career. I don't know how you lasted so long. Thank God that your doing better. Keep up the good work. I admire your ability to do the right thing in a difficult situation.
6/30/2016 8:10:15 AM

Donald
Thank you for your heroic service. I have Ptsd. I am up from a night terror. The courageous endor anda through those sufferings, a Phoenix rises from the ashes. Peace, bless and stay safe. You helped me tonight.
6/30/2016 3:59:59 AM

Wilma
I am proud of you!
6/12/2016 11:50:42 AM

Marla Friedman
Mark , thanks for sharing your story . Very brave ! It helps so many to see that it is okay to talk about mental health and seek help when needed . You are an inspiration ..
6/8/2016 7:51:52 AM

Dana Lang
I have been in State prisons, county jails, supervisor, every specialty team, instructor.
, trainer. I just love the job, but the job doesn't love you.
6/8/2016 1:20:41 AM

Dana Lang
Those cops that look at us weird have not been in a traumatic situation. Or they just want to play tough. I can't sleep, shut down emotion, but love my job. You gave that baby your all. That is more than most. My wife, thank god, understands my job. I don't talk about it but an occasional high light. Every call effects my life. I respect you and you should be our watch commander. I have loved all my watch commanders, so far, because they are cops.
6/8/2016 1:16:31 AM

John Doe
I know Mark he is truly an incredible person who doesn't get the credit he deserves from his agency. I give him so much credit to speak publicly about his issues he is a very brave man.
6/7/2016 6:19:11 PM

Mary
I loved your forthright article. I live in the central Florida area also and there are several good NAMI groups here. You may want to check into EMDR also, I know people who have done it and the results are very encouraging for PTSD victims. God bless you and thank you for your service...
6/6/2016 3:57:51 PM

Mrs. Shawn Hartley
I'm very glad that you received the help that you needed. I believe that every cop should have mandatory therapy. The job is one of the highest s related professions out there; not to mention the most dangerous and traumatic there is (outside of the military). I also believe that it would help with the us verses them mentality that pervades our country's officers. That leads to a self fulfilling prophecy! When our officers & Detectives treat ALL of the general public like potential perpetrators, the public has lost respect and admiration for the entire institution of what we call. "The Police". The police department's motto is "To Protect and Serve". But because of what I believe to be a pervasive problem of mental illness and the "Stigma" created by these men and women themselves, there is a divide between the Police and the public. I do not believe that the majority of officers feel that their job is to "Protect & Serve" anymore.
I realize that in their daily work they see the worst of and more importantly in humanity. Because they do not discuss this from a behavioral health prescriptive with a trained professional, they end up seeing the worst in everyone not in uniform. This is bad for EVERYONE! If our officers were trained to add taking care of their behavioral health as well as they are trained to fire a pistol; not only would they benefit but so would society as a whole. I believe that this would bring back the respect from the main populous. Which in turn would foster more cooperation, consideration, caring and kindness from the people they were sworn to "Protect & Serve". There will always be bad people they will have to stop and traumatic situations they will be forced to endure. However, this is what they signed up for. The entire justice system is broken. We all know this. But helping our Police Officers deal with their jobs in a mentally healthy way would be a very good start in repairing this broken system. Not to mention repairing them as individuals who have come to feel that everyone is the enemy.
6/5/2016 8:59:28 PM

Mark N
Thanks for your bravery on so many levels. Keep telling your story to others they are out there hurting too
All the best and be safe
6/4/2016 12:15:14 PM