Shootings, vehicle accidents and even exposure to dangerous substances are all known dangers of law enforcement. Each year over 100 officers are lost to work-related injuries and as sad as these statistics are there is another area of growing concern – suicide. As a profession, we have taken steps to prevent police deaths by using better body armor, better tactics, and increasing training. But when it comes to mental health for first responders we are well behind the curve.
Each day I receive news feeds related to police officers injured or killed in the line of duty. Each and every one of these notices cause a chill in my spine, but a recent incident involving an officer known to me has caused me to also look another danger of police work – suicide. A report by the suicide prevention program Badge of Life stated 108 officers took their own life in 2016. Not only is this figure staggering in its own right it also represents more officers lost during the same period to both firearms and vehicle accidents combined.
When an officer is shot or killed in an automobile accident his brothers and sisters all line the street, salute as the hearse passes and honor him or her as a hero. But if an officer takes their own life those same brothers and sisters will often quietly ask “why?” and even question whether their fallen comrade really had what it takes to be a cop. No one asks whether unsound tactics or poor decisions caused a shooting, but think nothing of doing so with a suicide. But this is part of the culture and part of the reason officers do not seek help no matter how much they need it.
Law enforcement is more than a job it is also a culture, for many a way of life. Part of that culture is not only seeing the worse in society but also shrugging it off as if it were normal.
Wake up, have breakfast with the family, respond to a deadly accident and go home for dinner. No, that is not how it really happens but it is how many believe it to be – even other officers.
After a while, this takes a toll on anyone, which is one of the reasons many officers suffer from stress-related illnesses and most departments offer retirement at a younger age than other government agencies. But it is still largely ignored.
Part of the culture also centers around a certain toughness. Few ask for help and even fewer will offer it without being asked. This is what needs to change. Whether it is a lifetime of seeing the bad in your fellow man or a single tragic incident no one is immune. Add to it the other stresses of life such as money, relationships, and illness and there are bound to be someone in every department who is on the edge. When this happens we owe it to our fellow officers to have their backs just as much as if we were taking a door together.
If you notice another officer is reacting in an unusual manner following a recent call or when facing personal stressors try to talk to them or get them to talk to someone else. If that doesn’t work and no improvement is noticed you may need to force the issue by going to a supervisor. The immediate impact may not be pleasant, and it may cause a rift, but in the long term, it may be necessary to ensure everyone’s well-being.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.