BINGHAMTON, NY (WIVT/WBGH) – Local police officers learned about a program today designed to address the stress and mental health challenges inherent in law enforcement.

The Southern Tier Law Enforcement Memorial Association held its annual Police Week Breakfast on the 18th floor of the State Office Building.

Police Week is designed to honor the sacrifice of officers who have died in the line of duty, as well as to foster improved police/community relations.

Guest speaker Jim Banish is a peer support coordinator with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the founder and director of the New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program or NYLEAP.

The organization hosts seminars across the state the provide training to officers so they can offer peer-to-peer support following critical incidents or in response to cumulative stress.

Banish’s brother was a New York State Trooper who committed suicide in 2008.

Banish later experienced mental health challenges himself and struggled to find resources. He says the key to NYLEAP’s approach is that it’s cops helping cops in an effort to reduce stigma.

“It’s that machismo atmosphere that you’re not allowed to talk about it and you have to bury it, I think that has caused a lot of these things to fester. Believe it or not, police officers are human beings and they’re going to act like human beings. So we can pretend, and we can stuff this stuff down for a long time, at some point it’s going to fester and it’s going to manifest.”

Banish says police officers have higher rates of suicide, alcoholism and divorce and are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed in the line of duty.

In fact, Banish has worked to have suicide classified as a line of duty death.

Police Week continues with a cornhole tournament Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Airport Inn and a Community Day in the Target parking lot in Vestal on Saturday from 10 to 3.