Special Report: Police PTSD

It’s no secret police officers are under fire right now, but they have always lived under incredible pressure. And they have always kept quiet about it.

They’re trained to suck it up and deal with the stress in private. But what happens when you just can’t suck it up anymore?

“You’re always taught to rub a little dirt on it and get back in the game,”Warren County patrol officer Jimmy Banish said. “You are basically Superman.  Put this vest on. Put the badge on. You are Superman. It doesn’t happen like that.”

Banish knows that better than anyone. Growing up in a close family of five kids, the three brothers all went into law enforcement.

Wearing those badges with such pride, his older brother, Joe, became a state trooper at the age of 21.

“He was just a cop’s cop,” Banish said. “His people loved him!”

And he loved them. Rising through the ranks to sergeant and then lieutenant, Joe scored a coveted job at the New York State Police Academy in Albany where he could shape young troopers.

But Banish said that’s where things fell apart and depression reared it’s ugly head.

Depression is a silent killer, especially in a police culture that discourages any acknowledgement of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental illness.

Banish said it’s not common for officers or those in the administration to reach out to you.

“It’s more common for them to treat you like you have the plague,” he said.

Banish tried desperately to help his big brother, but he said there was no where to turn. And then he got the call.

“On April 1, 2008, he took his life,” Banish said. “He came home for lunch, was still in uniform, and he took his life that day.”

Banish’s unbearable pain would change the course of his life. Just ask Warren County Sheriff Bud York, who hired Banish to help other officers.

“It’s a no brainer,” the sheriff said. “We have a young officer who had tragedy in his own family. He didn’t know how to deal with it. He went to get trained, and he wants to pass it on.”

Sheriff York is allowing what so many others have not: a way for officers to get help confidentially. And Banish is now the man to call.

He was given a car, a gas card, and the title of Peer Support Coordinator for Warren County. But the need reaches far beyond county lines.

Sheriff York said that on Banish’s days off, he’s driving to Buffalo, Syracuse, or wherever they ask him to help. And they do ask him because they know how good he is!

While Banish’s mission to save other officers may have begun with his brother’s suicide, first he had to save himself.

Two years after Joe’s death, Banish was working as a Washington County deputy when he found his own life was spiraling out of control. He was still afraid to get  help; still afraid to admit that he needed help. So he got help secretly, and the counseling set his life on a healthier path.

He never told his bosses for fear of losing his job or being ostracized. It wasn’t until he got to Warren County that he realized he had a chance to turn the police culture around.

Banish said not only does Sheriff York not alienate him,  but he has welcomed him with open arms.

And Sheriff York told NEWS10 ABC why.

“Not everybody has a Jim Banish,” he said. “Not everybody has that one individual that can make a difference.”

Banish’s peer program is a model  that is starting to take hold across the state.

His hope is that some day no officer will find their answer in the barrel of a gun, but rather, in the compassionate company of a fellow officer.

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