‘January 6th is still happening,’ says Officer Harry Dunn – National Press Foundation

“More needs to be done” to combat mental illness and suicide among law enforcement, said Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Serena Liebengood, widow of Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood.

Program date: October 2, 2023

Nearly three years after the Capitol attack, the urgent mental health needs of first responders have yet to be fully met, leaving many to continue their suffering in silence.

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn And Serena Liebengoodthe widow of Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, called for renewed attention to officers’ well-being as public attention turns to the upcoming criminal trials of Donald Trump and the former president’s allies who supported the rioters in their violent clashes with police guarding the Capitol.

“I thought my situation was unique, but over the last two years I realized that, unfortunately, that was not the case,” said Liebengood, whose husband committed suicide days after the insurrection. “Police officers are 54% more likely than American workers in general to commit suicide. They are at increased risk of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety-related disorders, and recognition of the psychological burden within the police has increased in recent years.

Although wellness-related funding has increased in recent years, Liebengood said a “gap still exists.”

“It is estimated that approximately 62% of police departments have wellness programs and less than 5% of police departments have suicide prevention programs. For me, this is unacceptable,” she said.

Dunn, author of a book about his experience on the front lines of the assault titled “Stand your ground: A Capitol Police officer’s fight for accountability and good trouble after January 6th,,” said her journey to wellness isn’t over.

The officer said the “stigma” around seeking help remains a major obstacle for police.

“The stigma is still there. People suck,” Dunn said. “People are not nice to each other. And I think that’s it. I spoke very loudly about my feelings, my emotions, everything, the traumatic effect I have had since January 6th. I’ve been called all kinds of names: “You’re so soft, you’re the P word”, you wouldn’t last a day on the streets of the NYPD. And it comes from the cops. These messages come from the cops.

Key Quotes:

“We should never forget things like this. And a lot of things in the media…. We’re so in the moment, what’s happening right now, this next hot story…. We move forward without even solving the problem of what happened before. And January 6 is still happening. It’s still in progress.”

–Harry Dunn

“I just want to emphasize the importance of having culturally competent health care providers. And that’s one thing we focused on [U.S. Capitol Police], ensuring that mental health providers are aware of the unique stressors that law enforcement officers face…I think sometimes it’s very easy to say that we don’t know why agents do not use our services. I think it speaks to the police culture and… the first responder culture in general, that it’s challenging, it’s unique, it’s complex. I think the most effective thing we can do is figure out what barriers exist and figure out how to provide these services to agents.”

Serena Liebengood

“There are so many officers who don’t speak up. Everyone sees me. And I’m not anyone’s voice. I’m just telling my story. I don’t speak for anyone except myself. And there are so many police officers who continue to show up, who don’t speak, who suffer in silence. And that’s why whenever I’m on the Internet, I always do my best to try to recognize men and women. It’s not about me, it’s not. But it’s about everyone who put in so much effort that day.

Harry Dunn

“I love therapy. Therapy has been one of my best friends over the last two years. I talk about PTSD in terms of law enforcement officers. Because of my experience of losing my husband, I also suffer from trauma. And it’s important for me to solve these problems. But also working on this and being able to speak to all of you and being able to invest my energy in creating an organization to address these subjects which has brought me fulfillment, which allows me to move forward, knowing that I can prevent this from happening. ‘happens to someone else.’

–Serena Liebengood

Read it full transcript:

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in mental distress, call or text Lifeline in case of suicide and crisis at 988.


The Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship is financed by the National Press Foundation Annual Awards Dinner. Reserve your table now.

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