Considering suicide? ‘Please hold on and talk to someone’
Suicide. A word that is taboo but has become all too common place in the news. Suicide. We try to keep the word and thought of it at arms length and sweep it under the rug. We post about these tragedies on social media and say how awful it is. We question how anyone could sink to such despair as to end their own lives. It is rampant within our society and in particular within the Law Enforcement community.
Today we deal with the realization that another officer has needlessly ended their own life. The shock and grief is real, the out pouring of emotions is real and the confusion as to why is real. Some may even say the person is selfish and didn't consider those left behind.
I can tell you from real experience that individuals that kill themselves do think about their loved ones. They believe the world, and their loved ones are better off without them. They believe that if they are gone things will be better for everyone involved. People who have suicidal ideation don't see any other way, the light is gone, the pain is real and they just want it to end.
As someone who has been suicidal in the past and as someone who came back from that abyss I've made it my purpose in life to help others going through the same issues. To testify that it is not the end, that just a little further down that tunnel is light. That you can come back. You just need to hold on one second more and when that second is up, hold on for just one more.
If you are considering suicide please hold on and talk to someone. You will soon realize there are people and programs available to help you. As a police officer we are trained to always be in control. To take charge and to not show emotion. We detach from the things that have everyone else's minds spinning. When all hell is breaking loose, we have to remain in control. We run towards what others are running away from. The problem is we never get to reattach, we never get to speak of our emotions, we never get to say how badly what we just saw or what we just did affected us.
We are taught to be in control but what happens when we feel we are losing control? Almost everyone that becomes a police officer is a Type A personality. You have to be to deal with the things that officers deal with, anything other than that and you'll be chewed up and spit out. When you deal with these types of personalities any sign of weakness is frowned upon.
Old school policing tells you to "suck it up and deal with it." So an officer that is dealing with cumulative PTSD as well as issues effecting all of us has no where to turn. They are not only dealing with family issues, financial issues and the issues every day people struggle with, they deal with everyone else's and see and do things no ordinary person should or would. So when they feel they've lost control, they have no one to turn to. They can't escape the abyss and they turn to the one thing they always have with them and find the way out of the dark, their weapon.
It's not easy for anyone who has ever felt that desperation to deal with, and for those left behind, the aftermath is always "why didn't they say something" or "if I had only known."
There are signs that we in Law Enforcement should look for, and the same goes for everyday citizens.
Someone who is depressed or is considering suicide often display certain changes:
- Work production suffers, there is an upswing in sick time.
- They may become over zealous or more aggressive.
- They may self medicate, so an increase in alcohol or drug use may be noticeable.
- They may go from being outgoing to being solitary.
- They might not interact with others the way they used to.
- They may give away prized possessions.
- They may make subtle comments such as "the world or my family or you all would be better off without me. They may even come out and say "I don't want to be here anymore" or "I'd be better off dead."
You should be cognizant of these signs and the one thing you can do is talk to that person. Ask them if everything is ok. Ask them if they are considering harming themselves or killing themselves. The common thought is that if you ask those questions then your planting the seed. This is false. If someone is considering harming themselves, anything you say will not plant the seed, but just talking to someone may in fact open the door for them to unburden themselves.
To finally speak of what is going on in their lives and to open up. Not everyone will respond, but many will. If you don't feel comfortable having that conversation, go to someone who is comfortable. Anyone. Just talk to that person and let them know you are there. Don't judge, listen.
If you are police administration it is incumbent upon you to act if you see these changes. You must develop programs and have them in place to deal with these situations. Critical Stress Management counseling should be mandatory. Help officers reattach and deal with the things they are seeing. Don't judge or punish an officer for seeking help. Don't hold it against them and don't feed the stigma that asking for help is weak. Confidential counseling programs should be available and posted throughout the police department. The Cop 2 Cop number should be prominent throughout.
Police officers are humans they hurt, they feel, they have issues outside of the department just like anyone else. Allow them an avenue to deal with those issues and not fear repercussions.
Changes need to be made within Law Enforcement and it starts with us as individuals. Love one another, talk to one another. Comfort one another.
If you are considering suicide talk to someone. Anyone and tell them what is going on. You are not weak. You are human. You are allowed to feel. To have emotion. To mourn. To weep. To know your life is important and no matter how dark it feels now you can move into the light of life again. You just need to reach out.
New Jersey’s nationally-recognized Cop2Cop helpline connects troubled officers with retired law enforcement at 866-267-2267.
If you feel you or someone you know may be in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the NJ Hopeline, 1-855-654-6735.
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