Opinion by Julie Goldstein Grumet and Heidi Lary Kar
Julie Goldstein Grumet is director of the Zero #Suicide Institute at the Education Development Center. Heidi Lary Kar is principal adviser on #mentalhealth, trauma and violence initiatives at the Education Development Center.
D.C. #police authorities announced last week that two more #officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have died by #suicide, bringing the total number of #suicide deaths among those serving that day to four.
The news underscores the tragedy of that attack and its impact on law enforcement. But it also highlights a much broader problem that deserves urgent attention: the high rate of #suicide among #policeofficers.
Law enforcement #officers are 54 percent more likely to die by #suicide than the average #American — and in the #UnitedStates, that national rate is already high. #Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in this country in 2019. And police officers are more likely to die by #suicide than in the line of duty.
This may be a challenging moment for the country to collectively exhibit the sympathy needed to meet the #mentalhealth needs of #policeofficers. Yet as the #men and #women entrusted to protect our communities and expected to put their lives on the line, they deserve nothing less. This is essential not only for officers’ #mentalhealth and safety but also for the well-being of our communities.
#Suicide is complex and unique in every case, yet there are common risk factors to watch for, including experiencing traumatic events, easy access to lethal means and the #stigma associated with asking for help. #Policeofficers not only have greater exposure to trauma and greater access to lethal means, but they also experience more unpredictable and threatening situations.
Making matters worse, #policeofficers, as a group, are often not inclined to acknowledge, report or seek help for either their own #mentalhealthissues or those of their colleagues. They may even fear job insecurity if they do ask for help. Further, although many law enforcement #officers receive training on how they can safely engage and support people in the community during a #mentalhealth or addiction crisis, rarely is that training focused on supporting the officers themselves.
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
Undoing this #stigma requires those in leadership to transform the culture. No single intervention or training will dramatically reduce #suicide among #policeofficers. As part of the Education Development Center’s work to address #mentalhealth and #suicide among a variety of front-line providers, we have partnered with the International Association of Chiefs of #Police to create the National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement #Suicide Toolkit. Three critical recommendations from the tool kit are creating a culture that addresses the impacts of trauma, making it okay to ask for help and ensuring access to skilled providers.
Key to this work is battling the notions that #officers should not show vulnerability and should be able to address all their emotional needs on their own. We must also fight the misconception that those who struggle with #depression, #anxiety or even traumatic histories cannot be effective in law enforcement roles. Many law enforcement agencies across the country have created officer wellness and resilience programs to do this; such programs must continue to grow and improve.
Ultimately, to save the lives of those who are responsible for saving our lives, we must create spaces for #policeofficers to talk openly about #suicide. Everyone who works in law enforcement — in any position — and their families must be prepared to compassionately ask their loved ones and colleagues about thoughts of #suicide without judgment and with the knowledge of how to get them the help they need.
We must all get comfortable with asking the question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” For our #policeofficers and for all of our families, it’s time to start broaching these conversations.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the #NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor at 741741.