It is with a heavy heart, and some risk, that I write this article. September was National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. The challenges of the pandemic have caused many to isolate themselves, limit social interaction and suspend their traditional coping mechanisms. In recent times, Department members have taken their own lives. Dating back to 1956, there have been 1,251 law enforcement suicides reported at the time of this writing, impacting 818 departments throughout the nation, according to Blue H.E.L.P. (which stands for “Honor. Educate. Lead. Prevent.”), and many more have gone unreported. In 2020 alone, there have been 120 law enforcement suicides. I write this article in hopes of raising awareness to help prevent another one of us from dying by suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has developed the following five action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal, which are supported by evidence in the field of suicide prevention:
- Ask: Ask the tough question. When somebody you know is in emotional pain, ask them directly: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
- Be there: If your friend is thinking about suicide, listen to their reasons for feeling hopeless and in pain. Listen with compassion and empathy, without dismissing or judging.
- Keep them safe: Is your friend thinking about suicide? Ask if they’ve thought about how they would do it and separate them from anything they could use to hurt themselves.
- Help them connect: Help your friend connect to a support system, whether it’s 800-273-TALK (8255), family, friends, clergy, coaches, co-workers or therapists, so they have a network to reach out to for help.
- Follow up: Check in with the person you care about on a regular basis. Making contact with a friend in the days and weeks after a crisis can make a difference in keeping them alive.
Now, I am speaking directly to anyone who has been to or is at that dark place. It is a place only known by those who have experienced suicidal ideation, a place where it feels like there is nowhere to go, no one who could understand and no way out. A hopeless place. I want you to know it’s OK and yes, that place is real. I also want you to know you’re not alone in that place and, although you might not see it now if you’re currently there, there is a way out. There is hope. You can get out of that place. I know you can.
Having a support network is critical, but sometimes we are too embarrassed to seek help, professional or otherwise. We fear what others may think or say. It’s OK. There are confidential law-enforcement-specific resources that can help. Below is a brief list of crisis hotlines to organizations that specialize in law enforcement matters:
- CopLine: (800) COPLINE or (800) 267-5463
- Safe Call Now: (206) 459-3020
- Serve & Protect: (615) 373-8000
Having a safety plan in place is important. MY3 is a mobile application you can download, free of charge, from the Apple App Store or Google Play. This app allows you to define your safety network and plan to stay safe. Create a support system and safety plan, access resources, get support and have direct access to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. As always, Department resources are available as well.
I dedicate this article to a friend, mentor and co-worker who took his life in 2009. Chris, the last time we spoke, when you called me not long before you left us, I just wish you would have said something or that I had asked. You are missed and not forgotten.