While law enforcement is often called to act first to prevent tragedy in the case of a behavioral health crisis, mental health support for those who protect and serve every day, and risk their own lives and injury to safeguard our communities, has too often failed our officers. According to a recent study that puts police officers at the highest risk of suicide of any occupation, those in the profession witness an average of 188 critical incidents during their careers. Despite the heavy toll that these experiences exact on law enforcement officers, many still do not seek treatment or help. As the Ruderman Family Foundation has pointed out, police officers are five times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression than civilians. With repeated exposure to trauma and daily on-the-job stress, more officers die by their own hand than felonious assault every year.
As September 26 is National Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, we are highlighting efforts that are making positive change, as well as resources to help those in law enforcement who may be struggling with their mental well-being.
Blue H.E.L.P: Honoring the service of law enforcement officers who died by suicide: In 2015, Karen Solomon, Jeffrey McGill and Steve Hough started Blue H.E.L.P. to address the issue of mental health and suicide among law enforcement after Solomon and McGill published their book “The Price They Pay.” The nonprofit focuses on prevention as well as support for families who have lost loved ones to suicide. What’s more, the founders have sought to challenge the code of silence around this issue with an Honor Wall to memorialize the sacrifices and service of those officers who have died by their own hand.
“The Wounded Blue” documentary: Written and directed by Jason Harney, this 2019 filmexplores the stories of six police officers who inspired retired Police Lieutenant Randy Sutton’s organization, The Wounded Blue, which provides lifesaving, 24-hour free peer advocate support to officers injured or disabled. The nonprofit helps officers receive emergency assistance and benefits after a life-altering injury that could lead to a mental health crisis. As IMDb explains, the documentary covers issues impacting officers today from PTSD to financial challenges that can result after a career-ending injury in the line of duty. Importantly, it offers solutions including peer counseling and the need for legislative change.
Breaking the Silence: The National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide: In April of 2019, the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) convened an inaugural meeting for a national multidisciplinary group created to give voice to the health needs of police officers, raise awareness about officer suicide and develop preventative tools and resources. Whether you are a member of law enforcement or have a loved one who is, the IACP site provides a wealth of helpful information from the consortium on a number of relevant topics, from how to talk about suicide in a constructive way, to links to advice on officer safety and family wellness.
What civilians may not understand: As most of our members are well aware, those who work in law enforcement are often witness to a great deal of human devastation including major vehicle crashes, conflicts, homicide, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse and more. Jena Hilliard from AddictionCenter.com reminds us that this constant exposure, along with the strain of working long hours and the severe stress of experiencing life-threatening situations, can cause debilitating anxiety and a crushing sense of despair. Moreover, these experiences put officers at risk for a number of major health concerns and other problems such as disrupted sleep, agitation, substance abuse, financial troubles, interpersonal struggles, inability to function, a sense of lost control, depression and suicidal ideation. A police officer’s ready access to lethal weapons can make the stakes that much higher.
Learn the warning signs of distress in a loved one — and who to call for help: The IACP President Paul Cell put it aptly when he said, “We know when we take the oath that our job comes with certain risks; however, that does not mean we do not need adequate support for the emotional and physiological impact that can result from the job.” As the association explains, family, friends, and loved ones play a critical role in an officer’s mental health. Family members are often the first to notice when an officer is struggling, and they can be an important lifeline by helping the officer realize when they need support. A loved one who knows where to reach out, and the right actions to take, can be of vital importance.
For a list of warning signs of severe stress or a mental health issue, as well as information on national resources that can connect you with treatment or help, access the IACP’s publication “Mental Wellness, Resiliency, and Suicide Prevention.”
If you or someone you know needs help now:
- COPLINE: This confidential, 24-hour international hotline is answered by trained retired law enforcement officers who can provide access to continuous critical clinical support. Call 1.800.COPLINE (267-5463). Find more information at www.copline.org.
- Safe Call Now: A comprehensive and confidential, 24-hour crises referral service for all public safety employees, emergency services personnel and their family members nationwide. Call 206.459.3020 or go to www.safecallnow.org.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, and prevention and crisis resources for anyone. Contact them at 1.800.273.TALK (8255) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
How The Police Credit Union is stepping up to increase awareness: We believe we owe it to our law enforcement community to raise awareness for the unseen mental health challenges of those who work so hard to keep us safe, and, who, now more than ever, deserve our unwavering encouragement and support. To this end, we have launched our own version of the social media #25DayPushUpChallenge to shine a light on the importance of this issue. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @thepolicecu if you would like to participate. Here’s how it works — good luck!
1.) Once you’re nominated, your 25 days start the next day.
2.) Every day, record and post a video of yourself doing 25 push-ups (even if you need to drop to your knees)
3.) Every day, you must nominate a different person to participate.
4.) Don’t forget to tag us @ThePoliceCU and use the hashtags #ThePoliceCUPushUpChallenge, #25DaysPushUpChallenge to help spread awareness and open up discussion on mental health issues that can lead to loss of human life.