The high rate of suicide among law enforcement officers is policing’s dirty little secret. Not only do police officers have higher rates of alcoholism, divorce, and drug abuse, not only do they have life expectancies ten years less than the average person; they also kill themselves at higher rates than the average American.
We are survivors of suicide in my own family. You survive and your life goes on, but you are personally never the same again. People who are driven to this ultimate choice are not selfish, as some may say. They are so entirely overwhelmed with life’s circumstances; feel so isolated, so alone in their dysfunction, despair, and the consequences of their behavior that they will do anything to end the pain.
Human beings feel despair. People have ups and downs. This is part of the human condition. Add in the factors of the rigors of the law enforcement profession, and it is no surprise that many LEOs turn to suicide. Not only do LEOs have to cope with the stress of life in general, they also, more than any other profession, see the worst behavior that people can inflict on each other. They go to work every day with the knowledge that some of the people they are sworn to serve want to kill them. The media and the bosses scrutinize every move they make. The economy is on a downturn and some people are increasingly desperate.
NYPD officers are reeling from the fourth suicide in 2012. Officer Matthew Schindler was driving home from the 115 Precinct in Jackson Heights, Queens yesterday, pulled off the Long Island Expressway, and shot himself. He leaves behind a wife and children to mourn his loss. Officers Patrick Werner, Officer Terrance Dean, and Officer Bryan Saar, also killed themselves since the beginning of the year. One of them was a rookie, another was a 20-year veteran. The officers ranged in age from 23 to over 40. The circumstances of each situation were different, but the end result was the same…devastated families and co-workers.
We need to stem this tide of devastation now. Chiefs and senior officers, what are you doing to address this situation? This is a chance to show leadership, to show your people that you care about them. Co-workers, take that step to reach out to a troubled colleague, even if he or she is isolating themselves. Keep on them.
If you are at the end of yourself or know someone who is, please call Safe Call Now at 206-459-3020. http://www.safecallnow.org/ . You will reach a trained public safety professional who has been where you are. Your call will be kept confidential by law.
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