Wednesday, September 12th, 2018 by

Is Our Police Culture Causing Suicides?

It’s National Suicide Prevention Week again (September 9th – 15th, 2018) in the United States which is a week-long campaign to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide.

I lost one of my law enforcement friends to suicide in 2007 and that’s what prompted me to start CopsAlive.com.

In my opinion, law enforcement suicide is a symptom of what ails our profession, and it should be an priority issue to resolve — but it hasn’t been.

This year, I thought I would follow suit with some other enlightened thinkers on this issue and challenge you to think about how our law enforcement culture contributes to suicide, and how we can fix that…

The IACP’s Police Chief Magazine current September 2018 issue has an excellent article in the Officer Safety Corner section entitled: Organizational Contributions to Police Suicide

The article written by Thomas E. Coghlan, PsyD, Detective, New York Police Department, and Visiting Fellow, IACP suggests:

“The majority of suicides are not linked to mental health concerns, neither among the general public nor among police officers. Rather, a majority of suicides can be attributed to situational factors and other life stressors, including organizational job factors. Law enforcement leaders are encouraged to review their organizational approaches to officer wellness and suicide prevention, as well as consider what role their disciplinary processes or other procedures might have as contributing factors to organizational stress and, potentially, officer suicide.”

Source:
https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/osc-organizational-contributions-police-suicide/

And in a May 2, 2017 article on The Conversation entitled: “Police officer suicide: it’s not just about workplace stress, but culture too”
author Karl Roberts who is a Professor and Chair of Policing and Criminal Justice, Western Sydney University said:

“If police officer suicide is strongly linked to the cumulative experience of traumatic events, lower-level stresses and the manner in which officers experiencing distress and trauma are treated by organisations, then mitigation strategies have to acknowledge all of these factors. Recently, police services have begun to set in place strategies designed to improve the response to mental health problems among their members, such as creating 24-hour assistance programs with direct access to mental health practitioners. However, much of the focus has been on responding to major trauma and PTSD. While this is important, police also need to take account of the effects of recurrent exposure of staff to poor management and cultural stresses, and the stigma attached to mental illness within the force. Certainly, educating staff – especially managers – into how to respond adequately to distressed colleagues, encouraging a culture of openness about mental health issues and removing any perceived stigma of personal distress would be useful strategies in this regard.”
Source:
http://theconversation.com/police-officer-suicide-its-not-just-about-workplace-stress-but-culture-too-76710

I agree with both authors and I’ve always thought that the effect from our “suck it up” mentality might be doing as much harm as it is supposed to resolve.

In my book Armor Your Self: How To Survive A Career In Law Enforcement I devoted an entire chapter to changing our culture from one that drives people and creates negative stress into one that treats our people more like professional athletes and that promotes “keeping them in the game”.

A big part of that involves what Dr. Jack Digliani’s calls “Making It Safe” to ask for help. You can learn more about and replicate his “Make It Safe” initiative by going to his website here: www.JackDigliani.com

I think the next step is encouraging what have been called “Courageous Conversations”.

Here’s what I recommend if you feel that you must say something to one of your peers before they hurt themselves or you or someone from the public.

Guidelines for having a Courageous Conversation:
1. First make a plan – Assemble your team and your resources
2. Be Direct – Don’t beat around the bush!
3. Point out observed behaviors not your opinions
4. Discuss risks to them and peers
5. Tell them you are taking charge
6. Initiate action to get them some help – don’t trust them to do it themselves
7. If needed hand-off to a Peer Supporter or Mental Health Professional

In my Armor Your Self book I call this True Blue Valor™ which is having the courage to confront a peer when you can see that they are doing things that will hurt themselves or others.

As most professionals suggest, it is so much easier to make a difference in someone’s life if you intervene early rather than waiting until their problems are giant and much harder to resolve.

Do you have a suicide prevention program in your agency?

Well, you no longer have an excuse for not having a program. With a video produced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Working Minds Program, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and the Carson J Spencer Foundation – along with our CopsAlive.com roll call discussion guide you can create a ready made program the moment you finish reading this page.

Create your own police suicide prevention training program in just 3 Easy Steps:
1. Download the video or show it to your roll call or staff group from your laptop.
2. Pair it with our CopsAlive.com 10 Minute Roll Call Discussion Guide “Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention – Take Charge” or the longer discussion guide produced by the Carson J Spencer Foundation.
3. Establish your plan for any interventions and post the Safe Call Now crisis hotline for first responders phone number 1–206–459–3020 around your agency.

This video “Breaking the Silence: Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement” was posted on YouTube

You can always find all of these resources on our website here:
https://www.copsalive.com/suicideprevention/

But prevention must also be part of a larger agency system that works to build comprehensive wellness and resilience.

There are over 20 Primary Best Practice Strategies in our Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) Armor Your Agency™ Model Organization Profile – Here are some of them:

1. Mentoring programs for all levels of your agency
2. Proactive Peer Support
3. A Chaplain’s Program
4. A Family Support Network
5. Psychological Services
6. On-going Resilience Training & Education
7. On-going Positive Organizational Culture Development & Maintenance
8. A Comprehensive In-house Wellness Program
9. Survivor Support
10. Medical & Health Services and Education

If you want help with any of these please give us a call!

What is your agency doing to help prevent suicides and build a culture of wellness?

The Boston Globe had an article this week entitled “Boston police join public awareness campaign aimed at preventing suicide” where they suggest: “Officers will be wearing blue bands across their badges and are being issued two wrist bands and a wallet-sized card “livesavers manual” with quick information about how to steer someone towards help in a time of emotional crisis as part of the campaign unfolding during National Suicide Prevention Week.”

Source:
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/10/boston-police-join-with-groups-launch-public-awareness-campaign-aimed-preventing-suicide/RAtF1VsxClBJWlenSlJKHJ/story.html

If your agency is behind the curve on this issue, don’t worry you are not alone, but YOU could be the one person to make a difference by leading change from wherever you are in the organization.

One interesting finding reported in an Australian report entitled: “Managing Mental Health in the Australian Federal Police” published March 7, 2018 the investigators came to one conclusion that said:
“The AFP lacks a comprehensive and consolidated organisational health and wellbeing framework to enable effective management and support of employee mental health. While the AFP offers a variety of mental health support services, there is no evidence that these services are effective and they are not supported by sound governance, risk management, evaluation or an articulated business rationale. Any reform of the portfolio of services available should be made in the context of available data on employee access, areas of high stress and risk, gap analysis, organisational culture and employee preferences.”
Source:
https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/managing-mental-health-australian-federal-police

When you read the whole report they are being very direct about their problems and how they are going to solve them.  We could all learn from their strategies.

We ALL have to deal with the stigma of suicide, and we ALL have a responsibility to “toughen up” our culture first.

ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS:

Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?

What can I do today to take care of my brothers and sisters behind the badge?

What can I do to help my agency improve its law enforcement culture?

DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH – FIND THE INFORMATION THAT APPLIES TO YOU – TAKE SOME ACTION!!!

Here Are Some Resources To Get You Started

We Are Blue Help (Honor.Educate.Lead.Prevent.)
 Verified Law Enforcement Suicides to Date in 2018 – 89
It is the mission of Blue H.E.L.P. to reduce mental health stigma through education, advocate for benefits for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, acknowledge the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers we lost to suicide, assist officers in their search for healing, and to bring awareness to suicide and mental health issues.
https://wearebluehelp.org

The National Police Suicide Foundation
The National Police Suicide Foundation’s dedicated mission is to provide
training programs on suicide awareness and prevention, that establish a standard of
care and promote employee wellness They provide educational seminars, peer support strategies, policy and protocol suggestions and a huge network of communication and resources to survivors and agencies. The National Police Suicide Foundation offers Peer Support at its very best, providing both pro-active and post-event training and support.
Learn more at: http://www.psf.org

The IACP Center for Officer Safety & Wellness
The Center for Officer Safety and Wellness was created in 2012 to centralize all existing efforts by promoting resources and encouraging a cultural shift within law enforcement agencies by emphasizing the values of safety, health, and wellness as they impact officer performance.

Check out the brochure: Critical Components of Officer Mental Wellness and Resiliency

and the report “The Signs Within”

At: http://www.theiacp.org/Preventing-law-Enforcement-officer-suicide

See the Recommended Resources selected by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center – Law Enforcement page at:
https://www.sprc.org/settings/law-enforcement

Excellent publication entitled: Suicide and Law Enforcement
Compiled by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia
https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/193528-193589.pdf

Good luck, stay safe and make a difference!

Please share your thoughts and comments in the box below!

© Copyright 2018 – The Law Enforcement Survival Institute, LLC and CopsAlive.com – All Rights Reserved

CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival, health and wellness. We invite you to share your opinions, ask questions and suggest topics for us in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

Our “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement” on-site training program is an eight hour, hands-on, “How to” seminar based upon John Marx’ book of the same name. This seminar helps police officers and other law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to build Tactical Resilience™ and survive their careers in police work. To learn more CLICK HERE. To learn about and buy the book CLICK HERE.

The concept of “True Blue Valor™” is where one law enforcement officer has to muster the courage to confront a peer who is slipping both professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of courage and intervention. We will train your trainers to deliver this program to your agency.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Our “Armor Your Agency™: How to Create a Healthy and Supportive Law Enforcement Agency” Program includes critical strategies that you will need to build a system of support and encouragement for a healthy and productive agency. To learn more CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.

I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of CopsAlive.com. Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers and improve their heathy, wellness and effectiveness. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

1 Comment

  • I have lost two law enforcement friends to suicide. It should be noted that both had, in addition to their law enforcement service, served in the military in Vietnam. The cumulative effect of long term exposure to violence and misery cannot be over-emphasized. We have developed programs to deal with the effects of police shootings, but certainly need to look at these cumulative stressors also.

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