Suicide has long-been an unspoken concern among public safety professionals. While most understood the problem existed, it was shrouded in shame and was often a problem about which one did not speak. To an extent, this reflected broader public views about suicide. More recently, suicide among public safety personnel has received greater attention in a variety of contexts and settings. What was always known to be a problem has become more widely recognized and systematically counted. Available data suggest that in 2019 roughly twice as many police officers died by suicide than were lost in the line of duty.
CALEA encourages all agencies and leaders to make efforts to address employee needs in the area of mental health and well-being. While agencies might have limited internal resources to help struggling personnel, there is a growing list of freely available training, information, and external resources. Perhaps the most important thing a public safety leader can do to address the mental well-being of their employees is to work to reduce the stigma associated with admitting to struggling and to seeking help.
- Create an internal dialog.
- If you, as a leader, have faced mental health challenges yourself, be open with personnel about that situation.
- Allow employees who do or have struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders to be honest with their peers.
- Provide resources and training as local resources allow.
- Make officers aware of resources
Additional information concerning public safety, mental health, and suicide prevention include the following:
- The Bureau of Justice Assistance Valor Initiative provides free resources to address a number of safety risks public safety personnel confront, including the Resilience Training Program.
- The British Police have developed Oscar Kilo, a program intended to create conversations and assistance regarding employee mental health.
- Australian public safety services have developed R U OK, a series of resources to routinize consideration of employee well-being.
- In addition to a resource guide for preventing officer suicide, PERF has developed a Suicide by Cop resource kit for communications and patrol personnel.
- The COPS office has resources on the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, case studies of officer mental health wellness programs, and how to start public safety family support groups.
- The IACP provides materials covering a range of officer safety and wellness considerations. Of particular significance, they provide a document that can be printed as posters for placement around public safety facilities that include contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Safe Call Now, which specializes in the mental health needs of public safety personnel.
CALEA encourages all client agencies to consider ways they might improve supporting the mental well-being of public safety personnel. Just as our goal should be to see zero line of duty deaths, let us also work toward the goal of zero suicides by our public safety personnel.