Police Officer Builds a New Life after Suicide Attempt

CopsAlive was honored this week to be able to interview a police officer who attempted suicide and survived, and has maintained their career. This is critical to our discussion about wellness in law enforcement because we have a problem in our industry that we need to fix. Statistics indicate that somewhere between 2-6 times more officers kill themselves each year than are murdered in the line of duty. Police officer suicides are an issue that is long overdue for serious discussion within our profession.

It seems that the person who is best suited to describe this problem is someone who has been there, and lived through the depression leading up to a suicide attempt. Officer Kathleen Graves of the Seattle Police Department is just such a person, who after a lifetime of battling chronic pain, an addiction to pain killers, and bouts with depression, attempted to take her own life a little over a year ago. She created an elaborate plan to give away all of her worldly belongings, including her beloved dog, and even checked into a hotel room under an assumed name. She chose a hotel outside of her own jurisdiction to avoid traumatizing her peers, then she took a massive amount of pain killers. When she realized she hadn’t died, she took even more pills but was found by her rescuers before they could kill her. Her story is fascinating, and even more crucial for other officers to hear, because she was rescued, despite her own efforts to hide from her rescuers, and has been able to rebuild her life and her career. It is a remarkable story of tragedy and triumph. It is also a great starting point for an informed discussion about police officer suicides.

You can CLICK the play button here to listen to our 55 minute interview:

Or you can download the 10 MB mp3 file by using a RIGHT CLICK HERE to start the download (that’s CONTROL CLICK if you use a Mac then SAVE LINK AS…) of a copy of the mp3 file.

In our interview you will hear Officer Graves, a 14 year veteran, talk about her battles with chronic pain; her struggle with depression (a condition faced by many police veterans) and her feeling of burnout. She describes… a need to be perfect (a condition we describe as the “Police Perfection Paradox” in our training seminars) as a person and as a police officer.

When asked what she learned, Graves suggests “Swallow your pride and ask for help” and she referred to the hotline operated by Safe Call Now at 206-459-3020 where she now works as a volunteer. She said that she probably was giving off signs of what she was planning to do, but that no one noticed or worse no one took any action.

If you are reading this and are considering suicide or know someone who might be contact Safe Call Now at 206-459-3020 immediately.

We need to cultivate more “True Blue Valor”. In our Law Enforcement Survival Institute Training Sessions we talk about the concept of “True Blue Valor”. True Blue Valor is when a cop has the courage to confront a buddy who is slipping professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. If you think it takes courage to confront an armed suspect, consider what it would take for you to confront one of your friends about their problems which are affecting their lives and job performance. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to foster and nurture the concept of True Blue Valor.

BottomLine: we need active discussion, awareness training and action now. Because If we don’t care about police suicides, who will. This is a topic that should be discussed BEFORE it strikes your agency. We are leaving a legacy for our police families to deal with because we are too ignorant or afraid to handle the fact that more of our brothers and sisters are falling at their own hands than are being murdered in the line of duty. This is an issue that should be discussed in Command Staff meetings as much as in Roll Call sessions around the world.

CLICK HERE to download the CopsAlive 10 Minute Roll Call Training Topic: “Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention: Take Charge”. This is one of our Single Topic Training sessions designed to enable you to provide short but powerful training on a variety of topics in as little as ten minutes. This makes it easier to fit training into busy shift schedules and give officers a chance to discuss important, job related or self improvement topics.

Also, please CLICK HERE to read our last article on police suicide which includes a list of warning signs and other information and resources about police suicide.

Our thanks to Officer Kathleen Graves who has the courage to talk about her experiences so that other law enforcement officers might not have to suffer what she has gone through.

If this topic interests you please join us April 15, 2011 when we present an eight hour training block on Comprehensive Survival Skills at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, Illinois. John Marx, Christian Dobratz, Lisa Wimberger and Dale Graff will present four two-hour blocks entitled “Tactical Wellness: To Serve with Valor, Protect Yourself Now” (Marx); “The Cumulative Effects of Stress – Recognition, Intervention and Survival” (Dobratz); “Emotional Survival and Stress Management” (Wimberger); and “Optimizing Survival: Enhancing External and Internal Awareness” (Graff). Please join us for what is going to be an eye-opening discussion on Law Enforcement Wellness and Career Survival. To learn more about the conference CLICK HERE.

John S. Marx, CPP is Executive Director of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute;
Lisa Wimberger is the CEO of Trance Personnel Consulting Group;
Christian Dobratz is an Assistant Professor at Minnesota State University at Mankato;
Dale Graff is a Facilitator, author and former Director of the military’s Stargate

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.

We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond. We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career.

The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals. It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about having CopsAlive and The Law Enforcement Survival Institute provide training for your organization.

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into CopsAlive.com. Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! CopsAlive.com gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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  1. Hi Michael,
    Thank you for your supportive comments!

  2. Kathleen it was nice to hear your openness on a very tough subject, but don’t be afraid to open up about the addiction part of it . Addiction is cunning and baffling

  3. Hi Chuck,
    Thank you for your comments. I agree, that Kathleen is a very brave person to bounce back to the job that took such a terrible toll on your mental and physical health. I also applaud her chief and department who showed much more courage and insight than most who do so disgracefully dispose of their most trained and valuable assets when they exhibit signs of toxicity from the cumulative effects of a law enforcement career.
    Finally Yes, my book is almost finished, and we just debuted our new training program “Armor Your Self™” at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference in Chicago last week.

  4. This is an amazing interview John. I’m really impressed with Kathleen’s courage in sharing this story. I’m blown away by her openness.

    Congratulations for being able to talk about something that I guarantee a lot more cops are going through than any of us realize.

    Like you John, I noticed Kathleen’s comment about being “Perfect.” That is the biggest problem with law enforcement. Everyone is pretending to be perfect instead of admitting we all have struggles.

    And even worse, are the hypocrites, often in administration, that often ‘shoot their wounded’ instead of trying to help their fellow cops.

    I’m such a believer in creating a back-up plan early for exiting law enforcement for all the reasons that Kathleen talked about. Such as being a cop as your identity and being financially trapped by the job.

    You have so much to offer Kathleen with your story. Have you thought of writing a book? You can help others, and get a back-up plan started.

    I do have an open question regarding Kathleen’s comment about “Asking for help.” I agree that pride should not get in the way, but I think that most who “ask for help” need to be prepared to be cut off and treated like a criminal the moment you ask. That said, the consequences of not getting help, are not worth the job.

    Amazing Kathleen. Thanks for sharing. I’m impressed!

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