Updated: Jul 1, 2019
The frightening statistics for 2018 came out and reaffirmed what we all have know for some time. Once again, law enforcement suicides out paced line-of-duty deaths. This scares me because I am sure they are under-reported and I know they do not include those retired officers who fall into this category. It is frightening to me because we see the results of a problem and continue on, without changing anything or addressing the problem.
After reading several articles about Law Enforcement Suicide, Divorce, and PTSD, I realized that they reaffirmed something I learned as a kid. The best time to solve a problem is....
before it happens. Why aren't we doing something? What can we do to prevent this and decrease the affects of these suicides, divorces and PTSD on our families, and communities?
In Psychology Today, Dr. Ellen Kirschman Ph.D says that "cops may be two or three times more likely to kill themselves than be killed in the line of duty." The statistics seem to bear this out. So what can be done? She reports the things that lead to suicide are" alcoholism, family conflicts, relationship losses, disciplinary problems, post traumatic stress, immediate access to guns and skill in using them, drug abuse, poor coping skills, financial difficulties, age and gender, job stress, exposure to work-related trauma, scandal, shame, failure, and a distorted but culturally correct sense of invincibility and independence. If there is a common thread linking these elements, it is the doomed officer's inability to ask for or find confidential help before small problems snowball into a tidal wave of torment.".
The old time police culture which still rules in many places today, make it nearly impossible to ask for help without some negative ramifications, whether to your reputation, life or career. In many cases, these ramifications are perceived by the officer and do not exist. Some departments have implemented peer support groups, but can an officer go there without later affects on their career? My department set up one of the original peer support groups and it was very effective and safe.
PTSD and trauma, lead to building walls, which can lead to relationship problems and substance abuse (in my experience usually alcohol, or pain meds), which then can lead to depression and additional stress. The pay is not high so financial difficulties are a common stressor and all of these things pile up. Then an officer may feel like they have no where to go, no one to talk it out with. We are great at solving the problems of others but as I have seen, we do not do well with our own problems.
Things are starting to shift as others are made aware of this and there are numerous groups throughout the country addressing some of these issues now. The bottom line is; THE BEST TIME TO SOLVE A PROBLEM IS, BEFORE IT IS A PROBLEM. Bridging the Gap, gives tools to share and communicate our traumatic incidents, to reduce the affects of PTSD, which will assist in lowering the number of divorces and suicides in law enforcement.
Let's get our departments and unions on board. Peer support groups are a great place to start along with department approved counselors. Now is a moment of personal accountability.We get to admit we cannot fix everything, by ourselves. We must admit when something is wrong and get rid of the macho bullshit image that is killing us and learn to talk, now. BRIDGING THE GAP