When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve heard a lot . . . I mean a lot . . . of old sayings. Kids my age grew up playing with the little green “Army guys,” and when the G.I. Joe action figure (we don’t call them dolls!) came out in 1964, he became one of the most popular toys of all time. And then came the animated series a few years later, and during every episode you would hear G.I. Joe say, “And now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”
Which is a good thing to remember – that knowing is only half the battle.
I believe this is a really important principle to understand when it comes to combating first responder suicides. We can know that:
- An average of 12-14 police officers die every month by their own hand
- More firefighters die by suicide each year than the total number who die on the job
- Suicidal thoughts among EMTs are 30 times the national average
- Corrections officers are at a 39% greater risk than the general public
- 911 dispatchers are impacted by the same stresses that affect those that work on the front lines every day
We can even know their names. And I don’t intend for this to sound disparaging toward organizations out there who have made it their mission to track the number of suicides and to publish the names of those who have died in this manner in an effort to honor their memory. It is certainly a laudable effort, and it does bring some satisfaction to the family members who are left behind. But knowing is only half the battle.
We can know that organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation have done studies and have developed policy statements and have made recommendations for departments to follow. There is much greater recognition nowadays that there is a stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment and that departments must be more proactive in protecting from all of the hazards of the job, including the stresses that often lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide completions. Now we know . . . but knowing is only half the battle.
I believe that once we know something is a problem, it is a serious sin to not try to do something about it. That’s why we have started the #CallForBackup Suicide Awareness and Prevention Campaign. Based in recent research, and built from the real stories of real people who have been impacted by suicidal thoughts themselves or the suicide completions of others, this program provides first responders and/or their family members the information necessary to recognize the signs and symptoms of job-related stress, especially as it relates to suicide, and also provides them with strategies that will enable them to become more resistant to stress, and better prepared to handle the stress of a traumatic incident on the job.
If you are struggling with the stresses of the job and just want to chat with someone to help you understand what you’re experiencing, message us at m.me/callforbackup.org/. Our peer support team members monitor these pages regularly for messages. If you are in crisis now, please call someone to be with you, and then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)-273-TALK. It’s time to call for backup!