Law Enforcement

As a law enforcement officer, you interact with people who are angry, emotional, injured, frightened or traumatized. Some people welcome your presence, while others resent it. This level of stress can take a toll on you professionally and personally.  Not only do you potentially work with citizens that are suicidal, officers themselves are at greater risk of suicide.

On the website the heavy badge (www.heavybadge.com) they offer several reasons why cops are different and how they handle stress differently.

One way to assist with suicide prevention is to have several officers trained as "gatekeepers." There has been a gatekeeper training written especially for law enforcement officers and is available through the QPR institute. You can find more information on the law enforcement gatekeeper training at: http://www.qprinstitute.com/Joomla/. Gatekeepers assist by:

Helping the public

A substantial proportion of the people whom you arrest may be at a higher risk of suicide.  Sometimes these people have mental health or substance use disorders. Major stressors can often be a trigger for depression. Going to jail or prison is often a stressful event and when combined with drugs or alcohol can result in suicidal ideation or a completed suicide. The suicide rate in jails nationally is nearly nine times of the general population. According to a study, "those who commit suicide within the first 24 hours of confinement tend to be charged with minor, non-violent, alcohol or drug-related offenses." Individuals thought to be at severe risk of any type of self-harm should be closely monitored. Objects they can use to hurt themselves should be removed.

Some calls you typically attend have a higher rate of suicidal ideation. While any direct threats by people to hurt or kill themselves should be taken seriously, pay special attention in calls involving:

If you find yourself involved in a call where a person has died of suicide, you will probably be faced with distraught friends, family or co-workers. These people affected by a suicide are called suicide survivors. The survivors often are overwhelmed with feelings of grief, anger and disbelief. In some cases, they may want to see the body and you should gently explain why it is necessary to secure the area.  It is quite possible you will be asked to notify the next of kin when someone has died by suicide. Suicide notifications are best made by a team, and should be made face-to-face, not over the phone. Some effective team combinations are an officer and a chaplain or an officer and a victim advocate.  It is usually best to ask to speak privately to  the primary adults in a household, confirm their identity and the relationship to the deceased.  Most will realize you have bad news, so tell them as quick as you can in a direct and clear manner. Be ready to provide details if they ask and leave a business card so they can contact someone if and when further questions develop.

Reactions upon notification of a suicide can be quite broad. Some people may faint, cry or refuse to accept the news. It is best to stay with the survivors until the emotional situation appears stabilized. Friends and family will need support during the time of crisis, sometimes more than you can or should provide. To best help the survivors in the long run, assist them in involving their own support networks. Resources like local support groups or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255) are also helpful.

Helping yourself

Law enforcement officers are at elevated risk of divorce, alcoholism and other emotional (including post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD) and health problems (Ayres, 1990). Job stress is one of the reasons that many experts believe law enforcement officers are at risk of suicide. Police culture itself sees strength and authority as essential components of the job. While this culture of self reliance is imperative to the duties you perform every day, it can interfere with officers being willing to seek help from friends and family members or mental health counseling.

In all populations, access to means of suicide plays a factor in completion rates. One of the reasons officer suicides are nationally higher than the general population is that officers routinely have lethal means immediately on hand.  Because of access to lethal means, identification and intervention becomes more critical.

Research suggests that a combination of PTSD produces a ten-fold increase in the risk of a suicide for law enforcement personnel.

Recognizing the warning signs:

Responding to a fellow officer in need may not be easy, but by doing so you may be able to prevent the loss of a life. Some ways you can respond to the warning signs are:

Departments can assist in suicide prevention in several ways. One way departments can help is to offer private access to mental health services through contracting or insurance. While it can be an added resource to have mental health services within the department, several studies have noted that officers feel more confident that information will be kept confidential when talking with a third party contractor. Suicide prevention training (including self care) should be integrated into a department's critical incident stress management program.

 Information adapted from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the Heavybadge.com.