Suicides among different branches of law enforcement are on the rise. National survey data suggest that among Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), including firefighters and Paramedics, rates of suicide are significantly higher than among the general public. We know from studies that first responders have elevated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorder when compared to the general population.
Since 2016, Blue H.E.L.P. has been compiling a list of law enforcement officers (working and retired) lost to suicide; this information includes corrections and federal officers of all duty status. At least 228 police officers nationwide died by suicide in 2019. www.bluehelp.org.
In 2017, there were 103 reported firefighter suicides. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance estimates approximately 40 percent of firefighter suicides are reported.
In a 2011 survey of 3,599 corrections officers, researchers found that 44 percent experienced some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, while 27 percent “met the criteria for full PTSD.” Concerning correctional officer suicide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries indicated that 38 percent of the intentional fatalities were suicides by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. www.bls.gov.
“Job stress is likely the largest contributing factor. Suicide is the result of mental illness, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Police and firefighters experience near constant exposure to death and destruction. PTSD and depression rates among firefighters and police officers are nearly five times higher than the civilian population,” according to The US Fire Administration at www.usfa.fema.gov.
In 2019, President Donald Trump signed a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in grant funding a year for police suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings and training to identify officers at risk.
Fire/EMS Helpline: 1-888-731-FIRE (3473).
CopLine: 1-800-267-5463, available for the United States and Canada.
The Fraternal Order of Police Crisis Line: 1-800-367-6524.
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has expanded a program that teaches coping skills and offers crisis services to firefighters affected by trauma and other mental health issues.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized that there is an urgent need in the field for leadership on the issues of law enforcement officer, and professional employee, suicide and mental health. www.theiacp.org.
The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio plans to work with lawmakers on a new bill to provide better resources to police who may be suffering with P.T.S.D., according to a 2019 article in the Toledo Blade.
Listen to a 2019 program, All Sides by Ann Fisher, entitled Suicide In Law Enforcement at www.radio.wosu.org.
Ohio ASSIST, a collaboration between Ohio Departments of Public Safety (ODPS) and Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), offers three-day Post Critical Incident Seminars (PCIS), known as Ohio ASSIST. To date, 135 first responders and their support persons have come together and worked through traumas experienced on the job. www.dpsohioassist.ohio.gov.
In 2019, Central Ohio Technical College in Newark convened a First Responder Mental Health Awareness Summit.
According to a 2018 article in the Portsmouth Daily Times,5 correctional officers who worked at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility died by suicide in one year. Ohio has the 6th largest prison system in the nation with thirty-one state prisons.
The state of Ohio and its 88 counties need to address suicide prevention in first responders and law enforcement. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine needs to challenge the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council to develop recommendations, initiate goals and develop programs for the men and women who keep Ohioans safe.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Scioto County. Contact her at [email protected]