Recent officers' deaths raise concerns about toll the job takes on mental health

Recent law enforcement deaths have many concerned about the toll the job is taking on officers' mental health. Tuesday night, we learned a retired police officer from southeastern Minnesota died by suicide. His department reported he had fought a long battle with post-traumatic stress from the job.

Leaders of a non-profit focused on assisting with the mental health of emergency responders say they are understandably struggling with these high-profile deaths.

Thinking about the recent deaths of three area law enforcement officers in the line of duty, responding to a domestic like Pope County Deputy Joshua Owen, or a traffic stop in western Wisconsin, it's the backbone of the job. Now, with the suicide of Gary Schroeder Junior, it is hitting way too close for some.

"I'm at a loss of what do we do? I don't know what to do. I don't know how we save everyone," said Russ Hanes with Invisible Wounds Project.

Russ Hanes is hurting, struggling to make sense of the recent death of Gary Schroeder Junior, a former police officer who served the Zumbrota community for nearly two decades. Hanes is the founder of the Invisible Wounds Project, a non-profit with a mission to assist front-line emergency personnel with mental health and post-traumatic stress issues that may develop on the job. He spent years working with and counseling Schroeder, including connecting him with a certified service dog. Schroeder would eventually take on a leadership role at the organization, sharing his journey with others.

"Gary had resources at his disposal," said Hanes. "And unfortunately, we still were unable to save Gary. If there's someone else out there who is in that same situation, please know that you're not alone."

Hanes and other advocates working in the field are extremely concerned right now about the mental well-being, particularly for those in area law enforcement.

Katie Slifko, whose husband Cory died by suicide after battling post-traumatic stress for years on the South Saint Paul force, wants to make sure the focus is on mental health and access to effective services for the men and women in uniform.

"It's just so heartbreaking," she said. "Grief and trauma of losing a loved one is terrible. The loss just never goes away. And things like this just retriggers those things."