National Organization Addresses Police Suicide

Having spoken to countless officers over the past several years, one claim I consistently hear is “I know I have PTSD!” Oh, really? I like hearing that from police officers about as much as police officers like to hear someone say, “I know my rights!” on a traffic stop. And just like you may be tempted to ask, “And exactly which law school did you graduate from?”, I am likely to wonder where you obtained your medical or psychological degree. The difference between your frustration and mine, though, is that your self-diagnosis could actually cost you your career, or your life.

The good news is that you are not as likely to have PTSD as you may think. The bad news is that you may be suffering from a condition that is much more insidious and common than PTSD. Want to hear more?

Even though I may use a big word or two, I don’t really want to be too “clinical” in this brief article, so let’s just get to the point – every police officer experiences and/or sees trauma regularly. Every police officer, at some point, will experience post-traumatic stress. At any given moment, though, only about 12% of those experiencing stress symptoms actually meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. In other words, you are about 8 times more likely NOT to have PTSD, even when you are experiencing signs of post-traumatic stress.

There are plenty of signs to look for when it comes to symptoms of stress:

  • Cognitive: poor attention, poor concentration, poor memory
  • Emotion: fear, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression
  • Physical: aches and pains, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues
  • Behavioral: social withdrawal, strained relationships, disruptive behavior
  • Spiritual: questioning beliefs, anger at God, cessation of spiritual activities

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, but most of these things are pretty common and quite often have a direct connection to the effects of stress, whether as a result of a particular trigger event or even as a result of the buildup of chronic stress.

If the symptoms you’re experiencing are not an indicator of PTSD, then what could they possibly be? Simply put, a whole bunch of different things! For example, if you’ve recently experienced some type of trigger event that became the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back,” you could have what is known as Acute Stress Disorder. The bad news is that the symptoms can be very intense. The good news is that they usually only last 2 to 4 weeks and then you are better.

The most likely culprit is what may be diagnosed as an Adjustment Disorder called Stress Response Syndrome. This is a stress-related malady in which symptoms appear gradually as a result of chronic stress, or more suddenly a few weeks to a few months after some type of trigger event. For this one, I’ll give you the bad news first . . . because there really isn’t much good news to give. Chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

It’s the suicide link that concerns me, and should concern everyone in law enforcement. Research shows that people suffering from stress response syndrome were 19 times more likely to complete a suicide than individuals without that previous diagnosis. For the past 5 years, an average of 10 active police officers each month have died by their own hand, and that can likely be attributed to the effects of chronic stress or some trigger event that has resulted in those officers suffering from stress response syndrome.

Related:

In preparation to roll out our new #CallForBackup Suicide Awareness and Prevention campaign, Humanizing the Badge® conducted a nationwide survey of police officers (including former police officers) and asked some simple questions, including:

  • Would you ever consider suicide as an option if . . . and then listed 9 different possible reasons. Approximately 41% of the nearly 3900 respondents said “yes” to at least 1 of those reasons!
  • Have you ever personally known an officer or former officer that has completed a suicide? Over 43% of those responding said “yes!”
  • Are you personally aware of a department/agency that has lost an officer due to suicide? Over 78% of those responding said “yes!”

Humanizing the Badge® wants to encourage you to #CallForBackup if you are experiencing any of the stress-related symptoms mentioned in this article. We can talk about it, and we can offer guidance to help you stay healthy throughout your career. Just reach out to us by message on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/humanizethebadge) or by calling (252) 39-HUMAN and leaving us a message. And, of course, if you are in crisis right now and need immediate help, please call a trusted family member or friend to be with you, and then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Chaplain David R. Edwards is responsible for the development and delivery of all training programs offered under the auspices of The 227 Project® organization in affiliation with Humanizing the Badge, Inc.® With over 40 years of experience in public speaking and education, David’s qualifications include:

  • Licensed Social Worker, State of Michigan
  • Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Board Certified Crisis Chaplain
  • Certified Trauma Services Specialist – Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists
  • Certified Police Chaplain, Macomb Criminal Justice Training Center
  • Deputy Chief and Law Enforcement Liaison, First Responder Chaplains
  • Approved Instructor – International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF)

 David is available to speak on the subject of police suicide awareness and prevention, provide in-service training on the topic, and also to provide ICISF-Approved Critical Incident Stress Management Training. He may be contacted by email at [email protected].