CHARLOTTE – Kareem Puranda had been a police officer in Salisbury for eight years when his world was suddenly flipped upside down.
After a moment of poor judgment, he went from being a well-respected officer in the community to facing several lawsuits and two indictments for using excessive force. The investigations shook him to the core and despite being found not guilty, ultimately led to his departure from law enforcement.
“Over the years, I became heavy-laden with burden and stress,” Puranda said. “What I discovered was that I was potentially dealing with PTSD and excessive burnout.”
Puranda knew he had to be an agent of change, so he returned to school to become a licensed professional counselor, clinical addictions specialist and certified clinical trauma professional. Last year, he opened his own practice, Self-Talk Counseling & Consulting PLLC, to educate police officers, and others, on how to take care of their mental health. He also wrote a book called “Breaking the Code of Silence: A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth.”
Mental health and law enforcement are more closely related than people thinking, according to Puranda. Throughout basic law enforcement training, officers are conditioned to fight their fears – rather than fleeing or freezing – which diminishes the brain’s natural reactions. This can cause an officer’s mental health to deteriorate over his or her career.
Combine that with long shifts, tense public relations and the anxiety of relying on training to do the right thing and what do you get? A pressure cooker, Puranda said. Officers can’t even hide behind the badge for security because the uniform itself is seen as a negative symbol in some communities. Over time, Puranda said, that label can weigh on even the best cops.
So how can police officers get help? Many departments have counseling and assistance services, but they aren’t required and Puranda said most officers shy away for fear their fitness for duty will be questioned.
“Officers are trained to be mentally tough, so vulnerability is seen as a weakness,” he said. “It’s this idea that officers should be able to handle the job.”
Without a safe place to turn, many officers suffer in silence. Puranda did for many years and that’s where he said he went wrong.
“I’m so used to seeing death, I’m so used to seeing blood and I’m so used to seeing bad situations. We normalize it, but these things, they become layers,” he said. “All we know is to package it and put it away. We fill out the paperwork and go to the next call. Officers are not given permission to vent in the most human way possible. That’s why I think counseling is something that should be mandated.”
At Self-Talk Counseling & Consulting, Puranda offers a confidential way for officers to unload the stresses of their job and navigate their mental health. He believes an officer who seeks counseling will be a better officer long term, as opposed to an officer who doesn’t understand their struggles or the benefits of talking them out.
Puranda also helps people on all sides of the badge, including military veterans, first-responders and anyone dealing with trauma or addiction. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, he said it’s especially important for everyone to pay attention to the signs of mental health struggles and understand it’s OK to be vulnerable.
“Vulnerability is a strength when you can share it with someone you can trust,” Puranda said.
Want to know more?
Self-Talk Counseling & Consulting is located at 2925 E. Independence Blvd. Visit www.selftalkcounseling.com or call 980-285-3689 for details or to schedule an appointment.