Episode 17: Trauma and Suicide Among Law Enforcement
Episode 17: Trauma and Suicide Among Law Enforcement
Retired police Sergeant, Sean Grannan Sr., joins Alyssa to discuss the prevalence of trauma and suicide among law enforcement. He has dedicated much of his career to spreading awareness and combatting the rates of suicide and PTSD among police.
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Alyssa Scolari [00:20]:
Hi, everybody. Good morning, or … Shit, I just hit my … Son of a bitch. Dave? Edit this out. I don’t function well before 11:00 am. I swear. Anyway, hi everybody. Welcome to another fantastic and well put together episode of The Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa Scolari. It is a Thursday morning when we are recording this so bear with me. I have not had my coffee yet. Everybody knows I’m not a morning person, so just bear with me today. But, I am both excited and nervous to have our guest on today. This is somebody who I have known for quite a few years at this point. I have with us today Sean Grannan. And, Sean is a retired police sergeant who recently works for the Gloucester Township Police Department.
Sean has been in public safety since 1987. He served as a volunteer fireman with Audubon Park and the Blackwood Fire Departments. He also served as an EMT, both as a volunteer and professionally. He served as a paid fireman/EMT for the United States Navy and served as a dispatcher for the Camden County Department of Public Safety and the Gloucester Township Police Department. After serving in public safety in those capacities, he became a full-time police officer with the Gloucester Township Police Department. Sean was employed at Gloucester Township for 23 years rising to the rank of Sergeant of Police. While with Gloucester Township Police, he served as a patrol office, a school resource officer, crime prevention officer, community relations officer, patrol sergeant, sergeant of communications and he ended his career as the aid to the Chief of Police for the department.
Sergeant Grannan was instrumental in creating several programs involved in community outreach and juvenile programs. Sergeant Grannan also helped transform the communications center into a much more modern community communications center. Sergeant Grannan was also a CPR instructor for the department, and he was an instructor at the Camden County Police Academy for over 20 years ultimately ending his career as the leader of the class teaching police stress and suicide awareness for police officers from the years 2008 to 2019. Currently, Sergeant Grannan is retired and spending time with his wife and three children, while always keeping his eye on policies and procedures involving police wellness.
Sean Grannan [03:23]:
How you doing?
Alyssa Scolari [03:25]:
You have had quite the career.
Sean Grannan [03:27]:
Yeah, yeah. Well, when you stick around long enough, you have the opportunity to do a lot of diverse things.
Alyssa Scolari [03:34]:
Yeah, and you really have. And, you’ve done some awesome things. Just as a little bit of context for the listeners out there, I’m so surprised that you still even want to be my friend after our first two interactions. I don’t know if you remember.
Sean Grannan [03:58]:
I do. I remember meeting you when you first came in for your interview.
Alyssa Scolari [04:06]:
As some of you may or may not be aware, Sean, he worked for the Gloucester Township Police Department, which is the police department that I worked for before I launched full-time into private practice. And, I had my interview and this was back in July of 2018? No, this was back in June of 2018 and Sean was the very first person that I met. So, I walked into the building and he’s this big, tall guy and he looks down and he smiles and he shakes my hand and he goes, “Hi, nice to meet you. Sergeant Grannan.” And, I’m shitting my pants because I have not even interviewed yet. This was before I walked into a room full of a million other men in uniform.
That was that. So, that was my first introduction with Sean, and then lo and behold, I got the job and I started the job and I was going around the department being introduced to everybody and I saw Sean again, and I did not remember him. I had no recollection that I had ever met this man before. So I’m shaking his hand, I’m like, “Hi, it’s so nice to meet you.” And, he’s like, “Uh, yeah. We met before but that’s okay. I get that a lot.”
Sean Grannan [05:52]:
Yeah, I’ve been told by a lot of women I’m very forgetful.
Alyssa Scolari [05:54]:
That’s what he said to me. That was my first day on the job and I died. I went home and was like, “Well, that was a good run. They officially hate me.” The fact that you are on here today means that I must have redeemed myself somehow.
Sean Grannan [06:16]:
Oh, without a doubt. Without a doubt.
Alyssa Scolari [06:18]:
So, is there anything else you want to add to that bio or-
Sean Grannan [06:23]:
No, I think enough’s been said about me.
Alyssa Scolari [06:30]:
You retired when? Just to give people some context.
Sean Grannan [06:35]:
End of October. I think it was October 24, 2019.
Alyssa Scolari [06:41]:
Yup, so it has almost been exactly one year because today’s the 22nd.
Sean Grannan [06:47]:
Alyssa Scolari [06:49]:
Isn’t that crazy?
Sean Grannan [06:50]:
It is. It doesn’t seem like that long.
Alyssa Scolari [06:52]:
It’s wild, I know. It went by so fast because I remember when you were retiring and I can’t believe it’s been a year already.
Sean Grannan [06:59]:
Alyssa Scolari [07:01]:
So, I have so many questions that I’ve wanted to ask you and wanted to pick your brain about because you have done such great work in the police department. I remember when I first started, you were the first person who reached out to me. This was after I insulted you by not remembering you and you were like, “Hey, guess what? You’re going to teach at the police academy next week.”
Sean Grannan [07:32]:
Yeah, I remember that.
Alyssa Scolari [07:34]:
Cue shitting my pants again.
Sean Grannan [07:39]:
But you did such a great job with it, and you know what I loved about that when you did that was you used some real world and some really recent examples when we talked about it. I guess we need to tell people what you were teaching on. I was teaching the police stress and suicide course at the time, and the way … Am I going on too long? Or, can I expand here?
Alyssa Scolari [08:13]:
No, you’re fine.
Sean Grannan [08:13]:
Okay. The way that we would structure class is I would teach the nuts and bolts stuff of the class, the statistics and all of that, and share with them some of the stressors and things like that that police would go through. I also had a clinician that would come in and she would also talk about the medical aspect and just about suicide itself. We would also have Monsignor [Manuel 00:08:41]would come in and talk about a spiritual component to how people could deal with stress, and then we would generally wrap it up with somebody from Cop2Cop, which is a police support line.
So, I needed you to fill that clinical role because Dr. Baruch who would do it with me all the time, she was unavailable for whatever reason. I can remember. It was back in those days, they would seem to move us around quite a bit in the class. They’d be like, “Oh, this instructor can’t make it. Can I move you to this date?” Sometimes that would conflict with the other people I was teaching with. But, you came in and I remember one of the ones … I think Kate Spade had just completed suicide at the time and you used her in your presentation. You also used … Oh gosh, who was it? The guy from Stone Temple Pilots. I can’t remember.
Alyssa Scolari [09:36]:
Chester Bennington from Linkin Park.
Sean Grannan [09:38]:
Alyssa Scolari [09:40]:
Robin Williams, I think, was on that slideshow.
Sean Grannan [09:42]:
Yes. Yeah, he was. Right, right. Who was the guy that sang Black Hole Sun? Was that the guy you used? I’m trying to remember? I don’t remember.
Alyssa Scolari [09:55]:
I know, I can’t remember either.
Sean Grannan [09:56]:
Howard Stern always talks about him.
Alyssa Scolari [09:59]:
I can’t remember either. It was so long ago. But yeah, I felt like that was my first test in terms of-
Sean Grannan [10:08]:
You did fantastic, though. Because what sometimes is missing is when we’re educating these guys, a lot of people think, “Well, they’re cops.” But they’re still kids to some degree. Some of them are 19, 20. Rarely they’re in their 30s so when I can have somebody of your generation also try and relate to them on that level, that really works out a lot better so you did a fantastic job.
Alyssa Scolari [10:39]:
Thank you. It was a lot of fun. It’s a really difficult topic to talk about, and I know that that’s what we’re going to get into today but it’s very, very real and one of the questions that I’ve wanted to ask you is you’ve been in this helping profession so to speak, in it, for as long as it’s been decades. What drives your desire to help people in the way that you do? EMT is hello, trauma is all I think when I think EMT.
Sean Grannan [11:28]:
I got to tell you … Let me try and conceptualize this so it doesn’t sound too lofty or whatever more so than it is, but you get a desire. Everybody wants to have purpose. I think everybody wants to feel like they’ve accomplished something. Even from a really young age, I wanted to be a fireman or a policeman, watching the show Emergency or watching CHIPS. I’m really dating myself. These shows are from the ’70s. You can probably catch them on MeTV or Antenna TV or something like that. But, I was I want to do that. I want people to see me and be out there helping out people because those guys, they were always out there and they were making a difference. So, I just wanted to do that. What I guess probably drove me is my father was in World War II and that generation of folks, they volunteered to go.
It was much like the people today. We have an all volunteer military and all that. But in my family, even going back to his father and his brothers, we always wanted to be of service. My mother worked with the church and they volunteered at the church. That was part of our upbringing was you were of service to the community or of service to the church. That was just my contribution was to do that. And then once you get in it, you get almost addicted to it, if I can use that word, because when you help somebody … Not so much the lockups and all that, but when you help somebody that needs your help and you realize that their life has gotten just a little bit better, at least for that moment, it’s addictive and you want to do it again and again and again.
Alyssa Scolari [13:33]:
Yeah, that’s that high that you’re chasing is to be able to bring a little bit of peace and comfort to somebody else in this world, even if it’s just temporary.
Sean Grannan [13:44]:
Without a doubt, without a doubt.
Alyssa Scolari [13:46]:
Serve and protect.
Sean Grannan [13:47]:
I remember when I was a school resource officer, I was at Timber Creek in Erial for six years from when they opened until 2007. Some of the times, some of these kids, you would think it’s an adversarial relationship between the police officers in there and … It’s really not. These kids, you form relationships to them. Sometimes I was the nicest interaction that they had all day because their home life might not have been great. And, I was teaching a class for our Citizen’s Police Academy one night and one of the father’s was like, “Yeah, my daughter’s at Timber Creek,” and I was like, “Oh yeah? What’s her name?” He told me and I didn’t really recognize the name, and he goes, “Yeah, my daughter says you’re only nice to the bad kids.” Which to me, they’re all good kids. They just do bad stuff sometimes.
I said, “It’s not that way. Those kids just seem to relate to me and they come up and talk to me.” I said, “A lot of the “good” kids will pass me by but for whatever reason, some kids just felt more comfortable coming up and standing with me or talking to me, wanting to know this or that.” You know what I mean? That stuff was a lot of fun. Those interactions with the kids were great.
Alyssa Scolari [15:16]:
Yeah, and they can be life changing. No matter how small the interaction, they can be life changing for that kid. I’ve seen it with my own eyes with the school resource officers and the Gloucester Township Police Department. A connection with those kids goes a long, long way.
Sean Grannan [15:33]:
Alyssa Scolari [15:34]:
Now, at what point in your career did you start to become more aware of PTSD, suicide?
Sean Grannan [15:50]:
Okay, well that’s easy and I can tell you because I went to … They did a Train the Trainer course. If you go back in the history of the state, Corzine becomes governor and he was being lobbied by some of the advocates for police stress and officer wellness like Cherie Castellano, who started New Jersey Cop2Cop, and we’ll expand on that in a little bit. They eventually got funding for Cop2Cop and they got funding for training for police officers in in-service training and in the police academy. So all recruits were going to get a course in suicide prevention and stress. So, they sent a handful of us to a Train the Trainer course up in Trenton.
I went with some other folks and we were sitting there, and there was a great trooper who had left being a New Jersey State Trooper and become a PhD. He was teaching on suicide and things like that, and the one statistic that struck me and that really hooked me in was that police were three times more likely to take their own life than they were to die in performance of their duty. That one statistic, and when I would say it in classes, I don’t know that people understood it as much as it struck me, but three times more likely … That stat drove me crazy. I was like, “Well, I’ve got to get involved in this.”
So luckily, there was an opening at the police academy to teach it and that was how I got involved in it, and then I met great people who were doing great work. I met Roy Diaz from Cop2Cop who was a retired lieutenant from Essex County prosecutor’s office and I met Marcia Baruch who was a psychologist and she had worked with the NYPD. I met Bill Walsh, who has done a lot of practical work in a master’s degree from the Voorhees Police Department. He teaches on it and he was teaching at the IACP. You just get rolling with this and you realize that it’s a big problem. It’s a dirty little secret in police work. Nobody wants to talk about it.
And before, when someone would complete suicide from the police department, they would get erased from the roll. Nobody would talk about it, and they could have had 25 years of honorable service and then it just got too much and they took their own life and everybody would just ignore the fact that they existed and that just can’t-
Alyssa Scolari [15:50]:
Sean Grannan [15:50]:
Yeah, that just-
Alyssa Scolari [15:50]:
Almost like it negates all the work that they did.
Sean Grannan [18:52]:
Right, and what I used to tell people in the classes were who are you hurting when you do that? You’re hurting their best friend who was on the job, who might be your friend. Your hurting their family, who now can’t really celebrate their service because they committed this sin of suicide. It shouldn’t be that way. Life’s hard, and when you’re a police officer, I know this can sound oddly self-service especially in these times, but it’s harder when you’re a police officer because you’re dealing with your own junk and your mortgage and your taxes and your relationships or whatever, and then you’re dealing with somebody else’s too. Everybody else’s. You know what I mean? It’s difficult and sometimes for folks it gets to be too much.
Alyssa Scolari [19:47]:
Absolutely. I know that I definitely touched on this. I’m not sure if you had listened to the episode on defunding the police versus backing the blue where I did speak about that. Police officers have so much on their plate, and they are traumatized on top of … It’s trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma and not a whole lot of support. I mean, there is Cop2Cop, which is the support line, but it’s not enough. And what’s even more of a disservice is that they give up their time for their families and then things start to go awry with their families and then they start to have a disconnect in their relationship with their kids and then they’re on the job and they’re doing things that can potentially be traumatic for them, and then as a result, there’s a lack of support. They end up taking their own lives and we don’t talk about it.
Sean Grannan [21:02]:
Alyssa Scolari [21:04]:
Because of what? The shame? In the law enforcement world, is it seen as an act of weakness?
Sean Grannan [21:12]:
Yeah. It really is, because you’re supposed to be this alpha and you’re supposed to be in control of everything. A lot of police work is control. So, when someone completes suicide, it’s just “Oh, they lost control. They were no longer in control of everything.” That is it. The police culture is the one thing that we need to overcome in order to get this message out there that people need to take care of themselves. And one of the things that I would harp on in class is you need to do therapy. Once, twice a year at least when you’re a police officer because-
Alyssa Scolari [21:57]:
Sean Grannan [21:58]:
I don’t know if you ever saw that movie with George Clooney where he would do the … He was a public speaker, or a motivational speaker, and he would bring out a backpack and talk about all the things you load in the backpack. But it’s true, you carry this bag of all of this trauma and stuff like that, and every now and then, you got to unload the bag because it gets to be too much. Guys and girls that are in police work, they need to do therapy. And we were lucky at my department, we had an EDP program. We had you and we had Michelle who we could sometimes talk to if we had to, and we had Father Mike, of course, but we had outlets that we could do and I know guys that would never have done it but then went to EDP or went to therapy of some sort and were glad that they did because-
Alyssa Scolari [22:57]:
EDP, just to be clear, EDP is the therapy that is offered-
Sean Grannan [23:07]:
EAP, I’m sorry.
Alyssa Scolari [23:07]:
Sean Grannan [23:07]:
Yeah, I’m sorry.
Alyssa Scolari [23:07]:
Sean Grannan [23:09]:
EAP was the Employee Assistance Program.
Alyssa Scolari [23:11]:
Okay, and that’s the therapy that’s offered through the employment?
Sean Grannan [23:15]:
Yeah, mm-hmm [affirmative].
Alyssa Scolari [23:16]:
It does. It makes such a big difference. I can recall countless times where I have had people come into my office when I was working at the Gloucester Township Police Department and they may have just been stopping in to pick something up and they end up sitting down, and we end up just having a conversation and before you know it, they’re talking about the first body that they ever saw. They’re talking about the first dead child that they ever saw and what it did to them to have to see a dead child all while knowing that their wife is pregnant at home or whatever the circumstance may be, and it’s like, “Man.” Not that it’s okay, but it’s so understandable why cops end up taking their own lives because it’s too much. It’s just too much.
Sean Grannan [24:14]:
Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, and unfortunately you look at the culture now … I love podcasts because you can listen to them on the radio and over the course of a couple of days while you’re in and out of your car, you can listen to a podcast and get the whole thing. So I was listening to Joe Rogan who does a podcast, and he had a comedian named Colin Quinn who used to be on Saturday Night Live and he was on some other things. He said, “Could you even make a buddy cop picture?” They were talking about 48 Hours with Eddie Murphy. He said, “Could you even make that now?” He’s like, “Because everybody hates the police now.”
Isn’t that such a shame that you can’t even do that sort of thing because I guess it’s social media and everybody having a camera now that now it’s just become a situation where the heroes, and those guys and girls who that are out there, they are heroes in their own right, what they’re doing every day. Now they have to put up with the fact that certain segments of the community and the media are turning against them and making the job that was hard before even that much harder.
Alyssa Scolari [25:35]:
Yes, yes. I even just remember going out to lunch with you and a couple of other people after maybe doing a presentation or what have you, and just the stories that I would hear you all tell me about how you won’t even drive up to a Starbucks and get a coffee unless you really know them personally because you have a fear of what are they going to put in my drink? What are they going to write on my cup? And, it’s just like, “Okay, here’s more trauma.” So now your defenses are going up even higher because you feel like the whole world is turning against you.
Sean Grannan [26:26]:
Alyssa Scolari [26:28]:
Did you experience a lot of that on the job?
Sean Grannan [26:31]:
Yeah, it was funny. I would tell people, and I chuckle about it now but I would tell people, “You don’t understand what it’s like to try and eat a meal at work.” You know what I mean? It got to the point where toward the end of my career, more often than not, I would bring my lunch from home and eat it either at my desk or in the one conference room just because going out to a restaurant with a bunch of us, it was almost like you’re on display. You felt like you were at the zoo and all the people are at the bars staring at what you … It’s like, “We’re just eating, folks.”
Alyssa Scolari [27:14]:
Right, we’re just humans.
Sean Grannan [27:17]:
We’ve had situations where people have gotten up and moved away from where we were. Either they didn’t want us to hear their conversations or for whatever reason. It wears on people is what I guess I’m trying to say. When people are like, “All the police are bad or all of this, and I don’t understand why they act the way they do,” you got to understand there’s more to just putting on the uniform and going out and writing tickets. The job is so much more than that, and police officers are asked to be so much more than they used to be. I tell people this, and if I’m rambling on, Alyssa, please stop me, but you have people that … whenever you have an interesting dilemma in society, who are they going to shift that responsibility to? It’s always going to be the police because they’re the only ones who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You think about it, we were pretty unique in having a social worker like yourself or Michelle on staff. But even so, if we were going to bring you in at night for whatever reason, we would schedule that with you. You weren’t “on call” 24/7 to come in, right? You know what I’m saying? When they start to, “Well, we need to defund the police and we need to have more social workers” it’s funny. I can just see they’ll have one social worker for all of Camden County and you’ll have to compete with everybody in Camden County to get that person to show up at night. If they want to address these situations, they’ve got to take a long hard look at staffing and training. It’s going to cost more money because things cost money.
Alyssa Scolari [29:19]:
Things cost money. Right. That’s what it is. It’s not about defunding. It’s actually about placing more money into police officers so that they can protect and serve because they are getting the support that they need because they put their lives on the line every day, and they have so much trauma and they contemplate taking their own lives and they battle addiction and … It’s about we need more money.
Sean Grannan [29:53]:
Right. It’s not like they go to the police academy and they take that human gene out of them and turn them into some-
Alyssa Scolari [29:53]:
Right, they’re not robots.
Sean Grannan [30:05]:
Yes, some sort of robot. They still have an emotional component. It wears on you. You can’t unsee what you see.
Alyssa Scolari [30:14]:
Yeah, you can never unsee it.
Sean Grannan [30:18]:
Alyssa Scolari [30:19]:
And it’s always there at the ready to come out, especially when you’ve been traumatized and you haven’t had the chance to process it.
Sean Grannan [30:29]:
We had a situation a few years back where they came up to I think it was a one year old or a one and a half year old who was unconscious on the lawn, he wasn’t breathing and all that. One of the things I remember talking to one of the guys that was there … He was a good friend of mine who had worked for me and he said, “That baby had the same pajamas that my son has.” When you think about even a little thing like that, had the same pajamas that my son wears. Whenever he sees his son in those pajamas, he’s going to be thinking of that.
Alyssa Scolari [31:05]:
Sean Grannan [31:06]:
Sure. It’s those little things that like I said, you carry around with you that are always there.
Alyssa Scolari [31:14]:
That you don’t have any place to really put it because you’re expected to be the strong, logical, clear minded individual at all times. And then what happens when … because I know that there have been people that have been lost to suicide in the department, specifically in the Gloucester Township Police Department.
Sean Grannan [31:38]:
Absolutely, mm-hmm [affirmative].
Alyssa Scolari [31:40]:
How is everybody else supposed to … that’s traumatizing in itself so how is everybody else supposed to pick up and continue to protect and serve around the clock when their brother just completed suicide, their sister just completed suicide?
Sean Grannan [31:56]:
Yeah, it’s really a difficult situation especially in a situation like that, and other departments in the county have had that as well. It’s that ripple effect, right? You can’t drop a stone in the water without it affecting everything else that’s on the water. It happens. There’s that whole undercurrent of he was best friends with this guy, or he worked on a platoon with this girl and things like that. Everybody gets affected by it in one way or another. Whether you knew the person or not, maybe you really knew his best friend and you got to try and help that person through it.
Alyssa Scolari [32:41]:
Sean Grannan [32:42]:
You’re your own little community in the department there, and those things have a community effect.
Alyssa Scolari [32:49]:
Absolutely. Now, one of the things I wanted to ask you is you have used this phrase while speaking, which I think is so important and you have not said committed suicide. You have said completed suicide. Can you please talk a little bit about your choice of language, because I think that it’s very important for people to understand?
Sean Grannan [33:14]:
Well, I had a psychologist a few years ago that I was talking to and she corrected me on it because I would say committed suicide. She was like, “No, we say completed suicide now.” I’m like, “Why?” They’re like, “Because you didn’t commit to the action. What you did was you actually fulfilled the action and you did that.” That was the way it was explained to me was that you completed suicide, that you actually went through with it and you actually did that, and when you say commit, it takes on a different connotation.
Alyssa Scolari [33:51]:
Yes, yes. Commit just in the same way that you would say somebody committed a crime. It adds to the shame and the stigma around surrounding the suicide. When you say that person committed suicide, no, they didn’t commit. They completed suicide.
Sean Grannan [34:09]:
Right, mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, and that’s one of the biggest hurdles in this whole officer wellness and police stress course that we need to do is it’s tearing down the stigma and it’s bringing it to the forefront. And one of the things that I would always say during my classes and my talks would be, “I just need you to bring this to the front of your mind from being buried in the back of your mind because you need to constantly as police officers that we always need to be aware that this could be a problem. Not just for you, but it could be a problem for your partner or the person working across the room for you.” One of the videos that I would show was a really well done video that came out of the LA County Sheriff’s Department. They actually used I would say an A-List actor, a guy named Hector Elizondo was the person that did the video.
And you could tell the production value and all that, they spent some money on it because it was a real problem out there in LA, and they committed to it. Thank God New Jersey decided to throw some money at it, too, and really tried to push it to the forefront because I hate to say it’s only going to get worse, but it’s only going to get, I think, more serious just because the stressors aren’t going to go away.
Alyssa Scolari [35:47]:
No. Yeah, I agree with you. Now, one of the statistics that I was reading about is that police officers are more likely to complete suicide or attempt suicide after they’ve retired, and one of the reasons … As a trauma therapist, one of the ways that I make sense of this is once you’re no longer with the police and you’ve never gotten the help for all that trauma, you have all this free time on your hands. The pressure is off and now all the demons come to the surface.
Sean Grannan [36:31]:
Yeah, that’s a real issue. They used to say idle hands, right? If you’re not occupying your mind, you think about a police officer so for 25 years, 20 years, whatever, this police officer, his mind has been busy. Or, her mind rather. Their mind has been busy 24/7. Even when you say you don’t take the job home, that’s wholly untrue.
Alyssa Scolari [37:01]:
Right, who you trying to fool?
Sean Grannan [37:02]:
Yeah. So, when you’re no longer working, you need to … How shall I say? You need to occupy your mind with other things. Hopefully, you’ve been getting some therapy prior to that but if you haven’t, you need to talk through this stuff with somebody because you got to unpack that stuff. I know unpack, I guess it’s trendy these days but it’s true because it’s almost like having that garage that you just keep throwing stuff in and eventually it’s got to get cleaned out somehow, right?
Alyssa Scolari [37:43]:
Yeah, I agree. Now, and if this is too personal you can tell me to back off, but is that something that you struggled with going into retirement? Feeling like, “Oh crap, now I have all of these memories and demons that are coming back that I didn’t really get the chance to process.”
Sean Grannan [38:07]:
Luckily no, and I say luckily because I think I was lucky being introduced into this whole world of officer wellness. I had a headstart at it, so I think when I retired I was fairly as well adjusted as I am. I was fairly prepared for it. So I always have that option, and I do some therapy on a semi-regular. I see somebody quarterly, I guess, maybe.
Alyssa Scolari [38:40]:
Sean Grannan [38:42]:
You know what I mean? There’s always stuff, right?
Alyssa Scolari [38:46]:
Sean Grannan [38:51]:
I have a great relationship with my wife, and she and I spend most of our time together but there’s sometimes she doesn’t want to talk to me about things and there are things that I may not want to … because you spend your whole life as a police officer, or as a first responder, fireman, EMT, dispatcher, whatever trying to shield them from the demons of the world. You know what I mean? You don’t always want to talk to people about that sort of thing but when you go to a therapist, it’s pretty easy, especially if you have somebody cool like yourself or somebody like that that you can just … This deal or that, or whatever. You just need somebody to listen.
Alyssa Scolari [39:36]:
Sean Grannan [39:37]:
You know what I mean?
Alyssa Scolari [39:37]:
Sean Grannan [39:37]:
And not so much understand but just hear it.
Alyssa Scolari [39:40]:
Right. I think more importantly, not understand, I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s that you need somebody to understand that they will never understand what it’s like to do the job that you do. One of the things that I appreciated, which this is going to sound a little bit twisted, but I really did appreciate it with working in the police department is that I knew that I would never understand and they knew that I would never understand, and we had that mutual respect for each other knowing our differences, and I actually think it made people trust me a lot more because I didn’t try to be one of them. I did not try to be a police officer, or act like I even know what it was like.
Sean Grannan [40:31]:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and I’ll use a different example. That makes a lot of sense if you can just be tolerant of each other. Tolerance is a big deal, right?
Alyssa Scolari [40:45]:
Sean Grannan [40:47]:
I have a friend whose gay. I don’t understand what it’s like to be gay. Or, I guess that’s probably not … You might have to edit that out, I guess. Can you still gay? I don’t know.
Alyssa Scolari [40:57]:
Yeah, you can-
Sean Grannan [40:57]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:58]:
You can say gay. Yeah, you don’t understand what it’s like to be gay but you are accepting.
Sean Grannan [41:08]:
Right. I get that I’ll never understand but you’re still my friend. I still get it. I still get that you’re still my friend. I just may not understand what you’re going through. Or somebody who’s black. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, but I can be accepting of how you think.
Alyssa Scolari [41:31]:
Yeah, I don’t know what it’s like to be you but I can stand next to you.
Sean Grannan [41:33]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:34]:
And, I can support you.
Sean Grannan [41:35]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:36]:
Yeah, absolutely. The other question I wanted to ask you was what-
Sean Grannan [41:43]:
I love when you grin, I can tell you.
Alyssa Scolari [41:48]:
I get so nervous because I’ve had so many questions I’ve wanted to fire at you for so long. What made you want to come on this podcast? Because I’ve wanted to ask you, and I’ve been terrified because I guess in a way the political climate right now has made me fearful that people may not be supportive of me and what I’m doing because I’m in the “world of the liberals” as people may say, even though that’s not how I would identify myself but that’s how a lot of people see me.
Sean Grannan [42:32]:
Okay. All right, I understand that. Number one, just to give you a little background on me. At work by some of the people that you know and I know, I would get characterized as this far right-wing nut. Yet, at home by some of the folks in my home, i.e my wife, my son, I would get classified as a liberal.
Alyssa Scolari [43:03]:
[crosstalk 00:43:03] All without context.
Sean Grannan [43:06]:
Right. I listen to everybody, and if you can articulate your points and can … I’m like, “Okay, well I understand. I understand what you mean.” And, I’m not some all knowing being or anything like that. I’m not trying to even imply that but I can understand people’s points. There is a middle ground everywhere contrary to what we see in the news. There’s a middle ground and that’s where problems get solved is in the middle ground. So, what made me want to come on is because I’ll listen to stuff on the radio or I’ll listen to stuff on television and I’m like, “But, you’re missing the point, folks.” It’s not that police officers are bad and it’s not that police officers are holy good or anything like that. There’s roughly between 800,000 and a million police officers in the United States. Are you telling me that you can take 800,000 of any group, 800,000 people, and there is not one bad actor in those 800,000 people?
Of any people. Doctors, therapists, priests, lawyers, whatever. You can’t have that many … it’s like pieces of wood. You take 800,000 pieces of wood, some of them of are going to be rotten. It’s just the way it is. It would drive me crazy how does this happen, and then you would hear things like, “Oh, well you need to have better screening.” I’ve sat in those interviews. Everybody tells you everything that you want to hear. I’m sorry, but do you mind working overnights? All the nights for the next three years? I love it. I can’t wait. Do you mind working every holiday? No problem. No problem. Don’t mind. I don’t like spending time with my family anyway. Blah, blah, blah.
Until the third month on the job, “Oh, this sucks.” So again back to the question, what made me want to come on is somebody’s got to be speaking for them. Somebody’s got to speaking for these guys and girls that are just going out and working on the job and doing it amid COVID, and doing it amid media and political backlash and say, “Hey, listen. You’re not seeing the whole picture.” We have political candidates who are out there and they’re all lobbying for [inaudible 00:45:44] and one of them just says, “The police do not wrong and …” and the other one is telling you the police are wrong, they should be shooting people in the leg.
Guys. You’re missing the point. It’s not like that. It’s a shame because everybody will tell you to a man, to a woman, that some of the events of this past summer, of course, they were horrible. But, by the same token, that doesn’t make every police interaction bad. There are millions of police interactions every day that go without any problems.
Alyssa Scolari [46:25]:
And so many good ones. So many good ones.
Sean Grannan [46:28]:
All the time. So what made me want to come on is I just wanted to give voice to the fact that guys and girls, they need to take care of themselves while they’re on the job, number one, but also that this job has so many more layers than what is portrayed on television and unfortunately, the people in the media and the people in politics a lot of times just aren’t getting it.
Alyssa Scolari [46:56]:
It’s so polarized.
Sean Grannan [46:59]:
Yeah, and there is a middle ground. Everybody needs to have a seat at the table. At the police department when I was there, you knew how we would round table stuff.
Alyssa Scolari [47:12]:
Sean Grannan [47:13]:
Everybody would bring ad nauseam sometimes. You’d be in these meetings and you’d be like, “Oh my God, one more opinion.” But, it would get hammered out. It wasn’t like things were done by fiat. A lot of people had voices at the table.
Alyssa Scolari [47:29]:
No, it’s get hammered out. Yes, and I have firsthand experience with that. Everybody sits down and everybody has their own opinions and comes from different backgrounds and different perspectives, and it gets hammered out. Yeah, there’s a middle ground and that’s what we need to be looking at. It’s not the polarization. It’s this middle ground.
Sean Grannan [47:53]:
Right, right. So, that’s why. You and I have had private interactions where it’s just been you and I talking and I can tell you’re reasonable, and when I saw you’re podcast and I’ve listened to some of them, and I saw what you were doing, life after trauma, it’s just so necessary because I hate to sound cliché but there is life after trauma. You can get through to the other side. And being a police officer, being a fireman, being a dispatcher, whatever, your life is one big trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [48:31]:
Yes, you are subjecting yourself to decades of trauma. Yup.
Sean Grannan [48:32]:
Right. So there are ways to get out the other side, and hopefully through you and I talking and people listening, maybe they’ll be like, “What is that EAP he was just talking about. Maybe I’ll check that out.”
Alyssa Scolari [48:46]:
Check it out. Or, Cop2Cop.
Sean Grannan [48:49]:
Maybe I will go to therapy. Let me talk to this psychologist. Everybody thinks it’s laying on the couch looking at Sigmund Freud.
Alyssa Scolari [49:01]:
Yeah, no. It’s not like that at all, especially not in my office. You walk into my office and I make you work.
Sean Grannan [49:08]:
Right, but half the time it’s people talking like you and I. You walk into your therapist and it’s like, “Hey, Alyssa. What’s up?” You’re like, “What’s been going on this week or this month?” Then, you might start talking about something you saw on the news and then you evolve into something that happened to you 10 years ago.
Alyssa Scolari [49:27]:
Sean Grannan [49:29]:
It happens very organically and it’s very easy to do but it’s very necessary to do. You don’t go through life never going to the dentist, and therapy’s the same way.
Alyssa Scolari [49:45]:
I agree, and I think that you did a really great job of helping to erase some of the stigma that surrounded the topics of therapy and suicide. Suicide is that one subject that nobody likes to talk about. Brush it under the carpet, nobody likes to talk about it, but it’s real and I obviously have no background in law enforcement but I can only imagine how hard it is as somebody who, as a lot of the listeners out there know, has been in recovery from complex PTSD. I have battled suicidal urges my entire life and have gone as far as to make attempts at ending my own life. There’s no shame in it. It’s very real and the thing that I think that everybody needs to know, especially to the law enforcement out there is that you can get help. Help is available. Not everybody is going to tell you that you’re a horrible person for being in the field that you’re in.
Sean Grannan [51:00]:
And, if I can put a bit of a point on it, in 2018, 167 police officers, people in law enforcement, committed suicide. 167. In that same year, there were 129 line of duty deaths. You just look at it like, “That’s a lot.” And, those are the ones that we know of, the ones that were characterized as suicide. No one’s ever publicized-
Alyssa Scolari [51:31]:
Right, what about the ones that no one talks about.
Sean Grannan [51:33]:
Right, that were never reported, which happens a lot, for insurance purposes or we’re going to take care of this guy so his family doesn’t know, which happens very innocently but those numbers need to be out there. People need to realize it. We had a trooper in New Jersey that I think it was about 10 years ago, got into his troop car, was headed to work, for whatever reason pulled over on the side of the road and took his own life. What got him there? You know what I mean? And that happens all the time. I’m not going to say it happens every day, but it happens a lot.
Alyssa Scolari [52:19]:
Way more often than people are talking about.
Sean Grannan [52:21]:
Right, and so people need to be aware of it. Not just civilians and politicians, but police officers need to be aware of it. You need to be looking at the people around you to make sure that they’re okay because there are days when people are not okay. And even you putting your hand on your shoulder, “You okay? Is there anything I can do for you today?” That goes a long way.
Alyssa Scolari [52:45]:
Oh, it goes the longest way. It goes the longest way. Yup, I’ve even had police officers during the job probably do that to me during one or two bad days. And I’m like, “Oh, that makes it all better.” Not that it fixes everything but it brings you out of this “I’m so alone. Nobody cares about me. Nobody sees me. The world would be better off without me.” It goes a long way.
Sean Grannan [53:17]:
You remember. We would come down to where you would work, and I would come and plop in your office, “Hey, Alyssa. What’s up?”
Alyssa Scolari [53:27]:
And, I loved it. I lived for it.
Sean Grannan [53:30]:
Yeah, “You guys go do whatever we’re supposed to do down here. I’m going to go talk to Alyssa for a minute.”
Alyssa Scolari [53:35]:
Yup. I lived for it. Those knocks on my door, I was like, “Yes. Somebody’s coming to talk to me.”
Sean Grannan [53:44]:
Alyssa Scolari [53:46]:
Well, I’m so appreciative of you coming on here today and being raw and being a voice for your brothers and your sisters in law enforcement because-
Sean Grannan [53:57]:
Well thanks. I appreciate it. I appreciate you giving me the forum. That’s great.
Alyssa Scolari [54:02]:
Yeah, of course.
Sean Grannan [54:03]:
Ask me back any time. I’ll come back. Talk about anything.
Alyssa Scolari [54:07]:
Yup, you’re coming back. Don’t you worry, you’ll be back.
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information about today’s episode and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website at AlyssaScolari.com. The really great thing about being a part of this newsletter is that not only do you get weekly updates on new podcast episodes and blog posts, but you always get access to the private Facebook community as well as access to all sorts of insider tips, resources and infographs that supplement what we talk about on the show. You also can connect with me and other trauma warriors. I’m super active on the Facebook community and I look forward to talking with you.