4 Tips for Fighting Suicide

What every agency can do right now to fight this scourge

By Chief Jonathan B. Flores  |   Aug 1, 2019

As a law enforcement officer you must wear many different hats. At different times these extraordinary men and women have to juggle between being a first responder, protector, social worker, crisis intervener, family counselor, youth mentor, and peacemaker just to name a few of the tasks that are incumbent upon them in the performance of their duties.

Sleep deprivation and exposure to critical incidents—murder, suicides, rape, child abuse, and more—and having to deliver death notifications can cause adverse effects due to the bodies fight-or-flight response, AKA stress (Copenhaver, Allen, & Tewksbury, 2018). These are just a few examples of the rigors of the law enforcement profession that can leave an indelible mark on the mental health of the law enforcement professional. Due to these experiences law enforcement personnel are more susceptible to depression, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide.

According to Blue H.E.L.P. a nonprofit group run by active and retired police officers, there were 159 suicides by law enforcement professionals in 2018; 159 in 2017; and 140 in 2016. According to Cornell (2013), studies show that a majority of law enforcement professionals are hesitant to seek mental health intervention in any capacity due to the stigma that is attached to receiving said services. This leaves a critical task for agency administrators to implement programs that will help raise awareness on mental health and change the stigma that is currently preventing these brave men and women from receiving the services that they may need.

According to Blue H.E.L.P. currently less than 10 percent of law enforcement agencies in the United States have a program in place to help mitigate suicides in law enforcement. This number is staggering considering the necessity of the need for mental health intervention programs for first responders.

Here are some suggestions on how to change the culture within your agency and reduce the stigma associated with officers receiving mental health intervention. Following are four suggestions for combating this plague. 

Talk about it! Agency leaders should touch on this topic during briefings and provide reassurance to their personnel that if and when they need to speak to someone regarding any issues they may be having, they can reach out without fear of repercussions.

Implement a policy regarding mandatory mental health intervention post critical incident. Our agency requires personnel to speak to a qualified mental health professional post critical incident. This policy was implemented after speaking with Dr. Joel Rivera (Chief of Police) for the Weslaco Police Department, at which time the value of said policy was clear. This will ensure that your personnel have received care prior to returning to duty.

Implement a chaplain program. Our agency recently teamed up with Market Place Chaplains Service and implemented the “Alton Police Department Cares Program.”  This program is paid for by our organization and is an added employee benefit which provides Chaplain/Counseling services to our first responders at no cost to them. The interaction is completely confidential and also covers the employee’s immediate family members anywhere in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Conduct regular mental health trainings. Our agency has partnered up with Pina & Acosta, a local psychiatric clinic in Mission, Texas, whose counselors provide yearly training for our staff regarding the importance of taking care of your mental health, and provide techniques on how to do so.

Conclusion

This topic has continued to be the elephant in the room for too long. We must strive to raise awareness and work towards a solution at mitigating instances of suicide amongst our first responders. One death to suicide is too many.