As stated in part 1 of this blog, last weekend I attended the Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute’s 14th Annual Community Conference: Understanding and Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness. Yesterday I blogged about Dr. Patrick Corrigan’s impactful worldwide research about what truly is working in stigma reduction. In today’s blog I will highlight a second powerful speaker from the conference: Chris Prochut.

Chris is a mental illness awareness advocate and suicide prevention trainer for law enforcement. He is the former Bolingbrook Police Commander and partner of Drew Peterson, who was a Bolingbrook police sergeant, suspected in the disappearance of his fourth wife Stacy Peterson, and eventually convicted of the death of his third wife Kathleen Savio. Due to the scrutiny and pressure that the nationally covered Drew Peterson scandal brought the Bolingbrook Police Department and Chris, he experienced a mental health crisis and eventually became suicidal.

Chris’s wife realized that her husband desperately needed to be hospitalized or she might lose him. She also knew why he was resisting hospitalization so vehemently: State of Illinois police officers immediately lose their gun (and subsequently, their responsibilities as an officer) if they are admitted to a hospital for psychiatric reasons. Chris was also fighting the stigma that mental illness is a sign of weakness. As a police officer, he was supposed to be the strong one, the one who helped others—not the one who received help.

Finally Chris’s fellow officers (along with his wife) convinced him to be hospitalized. His gun was taken away. After treatment Chris was deemed no longer disabled and fit to work by doctors— but the State of Illinois refused to return his gun privileges. Because of his hospitalization, Chris was jobless.

Though his life was spared by his treatment, Chris lost his career identity as well as his source of income. The family had to file for bankruptcy.

Believe it or not, Chris was one of the lucky ones because he rebounded (Statistics show that markedly more police officers lose their life to suicide than in the line of duty). Chris didn’t lose his life; in fact he has used his pain for good. He and his family relocated to Wisconsin. Not only does he work for Kohl’s Clothing Stores in theft prevention; he trains officers on suicide prevention so that they can get help before a problem escalates to a crisis. Chris is speaking out to let police officers know that it’s okay to ask for help; in fact they need to ask for help before it is too late.

Chris’s emotion as he spoke reflected the pain and disappointment that linger. But, he shared, after he lost his job with the police department he asked his young son, “What do you think daddy should do now?” Chris tearfully conveyed his son’s reply: “I think you should make corndogs!” Chris realized that, to his son, it didn’t really matter whether or not he was a police officer. All that mattered was that he was his daddy and he was there, laughing at his son’s response to his question.

To see more about this story watch this short Fox news segment on YouTube.

chris prochut

Chris Prochut