September marks National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Law enforcement officers and other first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. According to law enforcement mental advocacy organization Blue H.E.L.P., 105 officers have died by suicide so far this year. In 2021, we lost 179 brothers and sisters who took their own lives, and 186 the year before that. Tragically, 2019 saw the most suicides, with a staggering 248.1
What is the cause behind this troubling trend? How can we get these numbers down? Most importantly, what can we do to support our colleagues who are struggling?
As you may be aware, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) runs rampant in the profession due to daily on-the-job stressors, such as officer-involved shootings, fatal accidents, catastrophic events, repeated exposure to violence and trauma, long shift hours and more. Add to that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-law-enforcement sentiment, lack of support from city and government officials, and recruitment and retention challenges in the past few years, and you have a workforce that is struggling under an untold amount of pressure and stress.
According to the DOJ’s COPS Office, if untreated, PTSD can negatively affect an officer’s well-being and performance of their duties. What’s more, long-term effects of the disease include behavioral dysfunction, such as substance abuse, aggression and suicide.2 It is estimated that between 7% and 35% of officers in the U.S. are affected by PTSD and depression.3
Given these harrowing statistics and facts, it’s plain to see that now, more than ever, officers need to be encouraged by police leaders, colleagues and partners to seek help when they need it — before it’s too late. The stigma surrounding mental health struggles and suicide is unfortunately deeply rooted in our profession, causing many officers to “man up” and ignore or downplay any physical, behavioral or emotional indicators of PTSD. These officers may put on a brave face on the job, but inside, they are suffering in silence. This suffering can manifest itself in many terrible ways.
It’s time to break the stigma around these issues in law enforcement; it’s time to educate our officers on the mental health and wellness tools that are available to them and encourage them to seek them out. Our Department has its Police Employee Assistance Program (PEAP), a crisis intervention/counseling and referral service for employees and their immediate family members. However, if you’re concerned about the potential privacy concerns that Dan Coyne brings up in his article, “A More Discreet Option,” there are fortunately other free resources available, with many tailored toward law enforcement. In addition to the alternative Dan discusses, 911 At Ease International, here are a few more to add to your list:
- 911 At Ease International: Provides first responders and their family members with access to free, professional, confidential, local, trauma-informed counseling and therapy. Call (888) 283-2734 or find out more at 911AEI.org.
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Offers 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, plus prevention and crisis resources. Dial 9-8-8 to connect with a crisis counselor. For more info, visit 988lifeline.org.
- CopLine: A 24/7, 100% confidential helpline for officers and their families, answered by retired police officers. Contact (800) 267-5463 or visit copline.org.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a live, trained crisis counselor. For more info, visit crisistextline.org.
- Safe Call Now: A confidential, comprehensive, 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees, emergency services personnel and their family members nationwide. Contact (206) 459-3020 or visit safecallnowusa.org.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Confidential, 24/7 hotline for military veterans to reach caring, qualified responders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, many of them veterans themselves. Dial 9-8-8 then press 1, or text 838255. For more info, visit veteranscrisisline.net.4
If you or someone you know may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, please refer to the list above for support, or contact your LVPPA representatives. We are available 24/7 to help you through whatever you’re going through. Next time you see your partner struggling or having a bad day, take the time to ask them how they’re doing, and if they need help, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional, peer supporter, chaplain or a trained crisis counselor. Together, we can help our brother and sister officers and ensure that they suffer in silence no more.
1Visit bluehelp.org/the-numbers for more statistics.
2Volanti, J. “PTSD Among Police Officers: Impact on Critical Decision Making” (2018). Community Policing Dispatch. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/3t3cddw2.
3Lilly, M. and Curry S. “Survey: What Is the State of Officer Mental Health in 2020?” (14 September 2020). Police 1. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/4hkh9h9b.
4List of mental health resources courtesy of American Police Beat (apbweb.com).