BOSTON – Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross wants his department to know that seeking assistance with suicidal thoughts isn’t a “sign of weakness,” as suicide remains the biggest cause of death among officers in America.
“We have the right to talk about our feelings, we have a right to seek help,” Gross said. “We just have to get our officers to know that. … It’s vital, because there’s a stigma, if you’re law enforcement — ‘I’m taking care of you, I’m macho, I can’t show feelings.’ We wear many different hats; we see a lot of negativity in our daily duties. We see a lot that would affect anyone else, why not us too?”
At a press conference to kick off National Suicide Prevention Week at City Hall Plaza Monday, where the Boston Police Department collaborated with the Boston Police Foundation and the Greater Boston Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Gross displayed “remembrance and awareness” bands that his department will wear this month, Boston Herald reported.
According to a Ruderman Family Foundation study published in April, police officer deaths by suicide were triple the number of officers being fatally shot in 2017. Moreover, the report revealed that officers are much more likely to die by suicide than any other line-of-duty cause.
“It’s not like TV folks,” Gross said, “where you see officers in the movies dying at the hands of bad guys or these extreme car chases. It’s ironic that the number one cause of death for police officers is suicide. … We serve you. It’s important that when we do so, that we’re of sound mind and sound body.”
Furthermore, the city council is working on a resolution to acknowledge September as Suicide Awareness month. City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi George says the council is planning a hearing to talk about the city’s resources and whom they would partner with in tackling suicide prevention, reported the Herald.
“When people are suffering from mental health challenges and having suicidal ideations, I think there is often a feeling of being alone and being isolated,” said George, who attended the kickoff event at City Hall. “So, I think when you have a greater awareness that it’s more than just you that’s suffering and that you can find access to help, that’s really important.”
According to George, residents have expressed concerns about accessing mental health services over the past few years.
“We have to make sure mental health services are available on demand,” George said. “So, you may be able to make an appointment with a health professional, but that appointment may be a month down the line and not when you need it.”
Gross said his officers deal with suicide both in the line of duty and at home in their personal lives. As a result, his activism involving officer wellness, which was one of his focal points when he was sworn in as commissioner, centers on awareness.
“We want to send that message that, if you’re in need of assistance, it isn’t a sign of weakness,” Gross said. “As a matter of fact, it strengthens you. Just like you, you care about your family or friends. If you ever saw your families and friends in need, do you think you’re any less of a person if you bring attention to that? No. So, we just want to make sure that focus is on the Boston Police Department. Because, quite frankly, our officers deserve to go home safely after every tour of duty.”