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Police Suicides Outnumber Line-of-Duty Deaths

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Police Suicides Outnumber Line-of-Duty Deaths

Suicides left more officers and firefighters dead last year than all line-of-duty deaths combined. Needless to say, this is a jarring statistic that continues to plague first responders but garners little attention—especially if your loved one falls into this category.

A new study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that works for the rights of people with disabilities, looked at depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues affecting first responders and the rates of suicide in departments nationwide.

According to USA Today, the group found that while suicide has been an ingrained issue for years, very little has been done to address it even though first responders have PTSD and depression at a level five times that of civilians.

Last year, 140 police officers committed suicide. And this number does not include many others that were masked otherwise. Additionally, 103 firefighters intentionally ended their life. These tragedies outnumber line-of-duty deaths, which included 129 police officers and 93 firefighters, according to USA Today. (Note: Officer Down Memorial Page lists 135 line-of-duty deaths in 2017, while the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund includes 134.)

diary suicidal cop
(Photo courtesy DanSun Photo Art)

Line-of-duty deaths include everything from being fatally shot, stabbed, drowning, heart attack or dying in a car accident while on the job.

Miriam Heyman, one of the co-authors of the study, said the numbers of suicide are extremely under-reported, while other more high-profile deaths make headlines. There were 46 officers who died after being fatally shot on the job in 2017, nearly 67% less than the number of suicides.

The number of firefighter suicides may only represent about 40% of the deaths, she said, meaning the deaths could total more than 250 — more than double the amount of all line-of-duty deaths.

“It’s really shocking, and part of what’s interesting is that line-of-duty deaths are covered so widely by the press but suicides are not, and it’s because of the level of secrecy around these deaths, which really shows the stigmas,” Heyman said.

Moreover, she said departments don’t release information about suicides, and less than 5 percent have suicide-prevention programs. It’s something first responders are ashamed to talk about and address, which is having a deadly result, she said.

“There is not enough conversation about mental health within police and fire departments,” the study says. “Silence can be deadly, because it is interpreted as a lack of acceptance and thus morphs into a barrier that prevents first responders from accessing potentially life-saving mental health services.”

The stigma isn’t just in silence, the study outlines. Families want to hide the reasoning behind the death of a loved one. Officers feel they’ll be looked down on or taken off the job if they speak up about depression. Furthermore, dying by suicide means they aren’t buried with honor.

heavy heart

There has been movement toward mental health programs, yet the progress has been slow.

The report highlights programs and policies to push the issue, such as peer support, mental health check-ups, time off after responding to a critical incident and family training programs to identify the warning signs of depression and PTSD.

A project published this year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police detailed the issues around suicide and highlighted many of the same programs. It noted that first responder suicide is nearly impossible to track since it can be masked and isn’t consistently reported.

“It is a departmental issue that should be addressed globally,” the report notes. “Departments must break the silence on law enforcement suicides by building up effective and continuing suicide-prevention programs.”

More: NATIONAL ORGANIZATION ADDRESSES POLICE SUICIDE

More: PREVENTING POLICE SUICIDE – A POLICE WIFE BREAKS THE SILENCE

More: POLICE SUICIDE – WHAT IT ISN’T

More: POLICE SUICIDE – MAKING A DIFFERENCE

More: POLICE SUICIDE IS A GRAVE PROBLEM

A big push is for police and fire chiefs to address depression and suicide more candidly and share their experiences.

Attention is sometimes given to PTSD in the immediate aftermath of a high-profile incident, such as a natural disaster, terror attack or mass shooting, like the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“Here’s the reality, though: Police and firefighters witness death and destruction daily,” Heyman said. “It would be silly to think it wouldn’t put a toll on them.”

tears

She said when first responders are affected and don’t get help, it can also have a negative result on the community they serve and can be thought of more as an “occupational hazard.”

“These individuals are the guardians for our community,” Heyman said. “What happens when their decision-making is flawed? We need for them to be healthy.”

More: POLICE PEER SUPPORT: DOES IT WORK?

More: POLICE PEER SUPPORT TEAMS: Q AND A

More: YOU TELL ON YOURSELF

More: SPROUT HEALTH GROUP – FRONTLINE RESPONDER SERVICES

More: DIARY OF A SUICIDAL COP

The problem boils down to “fitness for duty.” If the agency discovers a police officer is unable to cope, he or she needs a modified assignment, something no cop wants. That is where the stigma combined with the job function collides.

Agencies need to work with health professionals to mediate the conflict of interests. But again, department psychologists have a duty to act, thus creating competing interests. Therefore, cops will usually clam up when sent to see the department “shrink.”

Resources need to be made available to outside health care professionals that are not on speed dial with chiefs and sheriffs, while still protecting the public interest should disclosed details reveal the necessity for immediate intervention.

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4 Comments

Thank you for Helping to educate people about this issue. Can i please request you update your language. The article says “last year 140 officers committed suicide….” the word committed is not the proper word. CommitteD makes people think Of a crime. Suicide is not a crime.

Please Use proper terms whEn You speak of suicide:
Died by suicide
Killed self
Suicided

Terms like committeD suicide (crime), SucCessful suicide (yay! They won), completeD suicide (give them a ribbon) are outdated and contribute to the stigma of suicide.

Thank you.

I actually do not agree, I believe committed IS the proper term, we can’t keep losing this battle of these brave, wonderful people, they determined to take their lives, so they committed to die, rather than live with whatever is eating at their thoughts…

Officers please don’t end your lives, you are precious to us, whatever it is seek out someone that is kind and will help you deal with what is hurting you, you don’t have to report yourself to the service that would change how people see you…you ARE LOVED!!! NOT ONE officer is replaceable…NOT ONE! My prayers are with you, YOU are the GOOD guys in this world, my prayers are with you ALL!!! Things you see and the high stress level of your job is daunting, but despite SOME haters, there are more who care than those who hate…I don’t know what you may be dealing with but PLEASE don’t take your life over it…reach out to a Pastor, someone who will help you overcome that pain in you…we CANT lose you, you are too VALUABLE…I SEND YOU MY LOVE AND SUPPORT…Death is final, it’s not the way despite what is whispering to you that you are listening to inside, visions you feel you can’t escape from…you see the worst side of humanity, it’s sadly how it is, but think of all the lives you can make a difference in maybe as soon as the next hour, or day, or month,etc…hold fast to the good that is in you, find a different release besides suicide, I could sit here and list all the reasons WHY but it would be soooo long, wipe suicide from your thoughts…you are so much better than that…do NOT give the haters a reason to rejoice that you are gone, live out your life to SPITE them…take back your control, don’t surrender to the Wiles of evil…please live…you are needed whether or not you can see it🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏

GREAT ARTICLE ABOUT A VERY REAL PROBLEM; HOWEVER, THERE IS AN EVEN MORE UNFORTUNATE DILEMMA IN THE FACT THAT WHEN YOUR SHERIFF AND HR LADY CO-CONSPIRE TO LIE AND CLAIM THAT YOU NEVER TOLD THEM ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS THAT YOU ARE SUICIDAL, THERE IS NO WAY TO HOLD THEM RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS (OR IN THIS CASE, LACK THEREOF). WHAT IS A DEPUTY TO DO WHEN THE ADMINISTRATION’S REPLY WHEN YOU TELL THEM YOU ARE SUICIDAL IS, ” GO TO YOUR OFFICE AND COMPOSE YOURSELF”? KEEP IN MIND THAT THEY MADE THIS ORDER WHILE THIS DEPUTY WAS ARMED. THEY DID NOT PUT HIM ON ADMIN LEAVE, DO A FITNESS FOR DUTY EVAL, OR GET HIM EAP HELP. WHEN THEY WERE CHALLENGED BY THE DEPUTY FOR THEIR INACTION WHEN HE CLEARLY NEEDED AND ADMITTED TO THEM HE NEEDED HELP, THEY CALLED HIM A LIAR, AND THREATENED TO FIRE AND BRADY HIM IF HE DID NOT RESIGN. HE RESIGNED UNDER PROTEST AND DURESS, BECAUSE HE COULDN’T AFFORD TO LOSE HIS 23 YEAR LAW ENFORCEMENT CAREER WITH A BRADY LETTER. AS SOON AS HE RESIGNED AND JOINED A NEIGHBOURING AGENCY, HIS FORMER BOSS WENT AHEAD ANYWAYS WITH THE BRADY THREAT AND THE DEPUTY LOST HIS NEW POSITION WITH THE NEIGHBOURING AGENCY BECAUSE OF IT. WITH HIS CAREER GONE AND NO OTHER TRAINING OR SKILLS BESIDES LAW ENFORCEMENT, THIS DEPUTY BECAME HOMELESS AND UNEMPLOYED FOR CLOSE TO A YEAR. HIS SO-CALLED “BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN BLUE” TURNED THEIR BACK ON HIM BECAUSE OF THE BRADY STIGMA AND THEIR FEAR FOR THEIR OWN JOBS. THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS, BEING STRONG ENOUGH TO ADMIT YOU NEED HELP IS ONE ISSUE, YES; BUT, WHO IS GOING TO STAND UP FOR OUR COPS WHEN THEIR OWN DEPARTMENT DISOWNS THEM IN THEIR TIME OF NEED? WHY ISN’T THE ADMINISTRATION HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR PART IN THIS TRAGIC CHAIN OF EVENTS? THIS DEPUTY COULD NOT AFFORD A PERSONAL ATTORNEY, AND THE FOP GOT NOWHERE AS HE WAS AN AT WILL EMPLOYEE, NONE OF HIS CONVERSATIONS WITH THE SHERIFF OR HR LADY WERE RECORDED, AND THEY HAD A TWO AGAINST ONE ADVANTAGE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES IN THEIR CLAIMS THAT THEY WERE NEVER TOLD ABOUT THE CONDITION OF HIS MENTAL HEALTH. THIS ISSUE IS CURRENTLY AT A STANDSTILL IN THE STATE AG’S OFFICE WHILE THIS DEPUTY FIGHTS THE SHERIFF’S DECISION TO ALSO REQUEST HIS CERTIFICATION BE TERMINATED WITH CJTC. IT’S NOT OUR COPS THAT ARE BROKEN, IT’S OUR SYSTEM FOR GETTING HELP.

I feel like I just read a lot of what my husband went through. His new sheriff actually laughed and told him he was hiding behind pstd(and yes that’s how he spelled it). There was no help. We hired a lawyer and he was so stressed, he resigned. And now, brothers in blue are nowhere to be found. And he can’t get hired anywhere locally. So after a year and a half with no job, he took a position as an armed security for a college. It’s easy and he’s ok with it but he is not living up to his potential. He’s better now, no alcohol, not as many bad dreams. It is a broken system with a lack of care and training. Every person in this field should have someone they can talk to professionally and get the help they need. Maybe even an evaluation once or twice a year for all of them. If I had not stuck those few years of hell out with my husband, he wouldn’t be here. No doubt. Something needs to change.

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