Answering the “Big Question”

Just how many law enforcement suicides are there each year?  That’s the “big question,” and the answer is that no one knows for sure.  There are a number of organizations that have been trying to track the numbers of both active and retired officers for some time.  I have no intention of saying anything disparaging here, but let me name of few of the organizations that I’m talking about (and you will have heard of most of these):

  • Blue H.E.L.P.
  • Badge of Life
  • The Ruderman Family Foundation
  • The National Law Enforcement Suicide Mortality Database

The one thing that these organizations have in common is that they have basically nothing in common.  They don’t have the same number of suicides that have been tracked, they don’t have the same method of validating the information they receive, some are adamant that law enforcement suicides should always be treated as a line of duty death while others do not support that idea, and so on. 

            So, the answer to the question as to how many law enforcement suicides are there every year is that we don’t have an accurate number, and in my mind, there is little hope that we will ever have an accurate number.  But I’ll have more to say about that as the article continues.

            Meanwhile, there is information available that I believe still helps us understand the severity of the problem of suicide in law enforcement.  We did a survey through Humanizing the Badge asking police officers about the topic of suicide, and here is what we found from the 3,892 responses we received:

  • 41% said they would consider suicide as an option if they were to find themselves in one or more of the following circumstances:
  • Loss of a spouse, life partner, or child as a result of death
  • Loss of a spouse, life partner, or child as a result of divorce or separation
  • Recent diagnosis of a major/terminal illness
  • Feeling responsible for the death of a coworker
  • Killing someone accidentally or out of anger
  • Feeling isolated or alone
  • Being accused of sexual misconduct
  • Fear of losing their job due to being convicted of a crime or facing incarceration
  • Fear of losing their job due to receiving a mental health diagnosis
  • 43% said they had personally known another officer or former officer who had died by suicide
  • 78% said they were personally aware of another department or agency that had lost an officer or former officer to suicide

Other numbers that we know, for example, is that back around 2015-2016 when the suicide rate in the general population was around 12 per 100,000 the Department of Justice released the results of a study that showed the suicide rate in law enforcement to be about 18 per 100,000 and another study in 2017 showing that the rate of suicide in Chicago PD was about 60% greater than the average of law enforcement agencies across the country for a rate of about 29 per 100,000.  The number of suicides in NYPD in 2019 translates to a rate for them of about 30 per 100,000.

Is there any doubt that suicide in law enforcement is a problem?  Of course not.  Even if we don’t know the exact numbers from across the country, the numbers that we do know are (or should be) enough to cause us to want to take action and to do better.

Now, here’s the thing that had given me hope that we might actually have accurate numbers to report one day: The Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act.  This Act passed on June 16, 2020, and here are the basic things you need to know about it:

  • It requires the Attorney General, through the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to establish the Law Enforcement Officers Suicide Data Collection Program within one year of the passage of the Act
  • It requires the Attorney General, through the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to deliver a report to Congress detailing the information that is collected through that data collection program beginning two years after the passage of the Act.
  • The only problem is that, while the Act requires the program to be established, the Act also says that this is a program “. . . under which law enforcement agencies may submit to the Director information on suicides and attempted suicides within such law enforcement agencies . . .”

The FBI has a similar data collection program for collecting data on the number of officers each year who are assaulted, injured, and killed in the line of duty.  There are almost 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and yet fewer than 10,000 of them reported information to that data collection program last year.  Hence, I no longer have hope that we will ever have accurate numbers of the law enforcement suicides of both active and retired personnel that take place each year, simply because if agencies aren’t absolutely required to report the information, there is probably only around a 50% chance that they will.

Still, people feel like they have to be able to report a number.  During his training programs, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Dave Grossman says that it is his belief that between 200 and 450 active police officers die by suicide each year.  That’s quite a wide range of numbers, and he may very well be right, but that’s like going to the gun range to qualify and only having to hit the proverbial “broad side of a barn” in order to pass!  The only thing I’m fairly comfortable saying when it comes to the numbers is that, in my opinion, we lose more officers to suicide each year than the number of officers who are feloniously killed in the line of duty.

This is Part 1 of a series of articles on Confronting the Issue of Suicide and we encourage you to visit again for more installments in this series. Meanwhile, if you are struggling with the stresses of the job or of life in general and are looking for some resources for help, please reach out to us at m.me/callforbackup.org and one of our peer support specialists will be happy to help. If you are in crisis now and need immediate help, please text the keyword BADGE to 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor 24/7/365 – always free, always confidential.

Today – My Social & Emotional Needs

What are you planning to do today to take care of your social and emotional needs?

There is a social and emotional dimension of our lives that must be replenished and renewed frequently.  Our emotional lives are greatly enriched by the social connections and relationships that we have developed with other people.  So make it a point to have regular interaction with the people you care about, and those who you know care about you.  That sense of belonging, that sense of relationship is what is necessary in order for us to feel emotionally satisfied.  Contentment – that’s a good word.  You can find a lot of contentment in healthy, loving, lasting relationships and that’s good for your emotional stability.  Be intentional about staying refreshed in that area.

According to John’s Hopkins University research, the most important factor in human resilience is social support.  Are you staying engaged with people?  Are you maintaining a healthy emotional balance in your life?  For your sake and the sake of those you care about, pay attention to this every day!

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer supporters who can help you with this and other stress management approaches, please send a message to m.me/callforbackup.org and we’d be happy to make that happen. 

Stress Affects Your Mind

Calming Your Mind and Lowering Your Stress Levels

More often than not, we tend to focus on too many things every day, leading to confusion, anxiety, and annoyance. This stress can be hard on the mind and body, but the good news is that you can lower your stress levels and calm your mind, helping yourself to feel better each day.

In fact, you can overcome these issues with a few simple techniques!

First, acknowledge that you must take time for yourself. Being all things to all people isn’t realistic, and neither is doing everything and solving all problems or concerns in one day. No one should expect that of you! If they do, you must recognize that it’s not healthy, and you must do what’s right and best for you. Your health and happiness could depend on it.

Ways to Calm Your Mind

Meditation and prayer are two of the biggest ways to calm a restless mind, but they aren’t the only things you can do. There are many other choices to help you feel better and live a stress-free life. You might also consider:

  • Volunteering or focusing on helping others
  • Exercising
  • Listening to music
  • Using your mind for joyous pursuits that interest you
  • Playing with children or pets

Everyone has different things they enjoy in life, and you should find yours and practice them when you start to feel stressed or your thoughts try to run away from you. Avoid letting your thoughts talk you out of your dreams. Your dreams are yours; embrace them!

Being busy is not the problem when it comes to your mind. Being busy with things that aggravate you and make you feel down is the problem. Instead of dwelling on things that upset you, deal with them, let them go, and move on to things that you enjoy. You can do this with your thoughts, just like you would with a physical task in the workplace or at home.

Lower Your Stress Levels Each Day

Stress begins in your mind as thoughts, but it can manifest itself physically. You may feel tense, anxious, uneasy, angry, or have aches and pains you can’t really find a cause for. If stress continues all the time and becomes chronic, your health could be compromised.

You can let stress go and feel good every day.

Try these strategies to lower your stress:

  1. Focus on what matters to you. What’s important in your life? Be proactive about your goals and priorities. When you’re working toward something that you want, it makes you feel good about yourself and your future.
  2. Find both physical and mental ways to release your stress. Releasing your stress every day keeps it from building up inside you. Make the conscious choice to start each day fresh, without the stress from the day before. What relaxes you? Music? Hobbies? Spending time with your family? Enjoy a healthy dose of relaxation every day. Get as much exercise as possible. Exercise refreshes your body with a surge of oxygen and releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone. Even if there’s no time for an exercise session, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park far away from the building so you can walk, and play with your kids or pets.
  3. Practice these strategies consistently. Work on releasing your stress every day, even on days when you don’t feel as much stress, so it won’t be a struggle when you really need it. When you’re feeling good, it’s natural to forget about letting stress go, but it’s important to avoid getting complacent.

Keep practicing and improving, even when you feel great!

Whichever techniques you choose to calm your mind and lower your levels of stress, ensure it’s the right fit for you and your lifestyle. Only you know what you really need and what makes you feel safe and at peace.

If you practice this peacefulness each day, it won’t be long before you start to feel calmer, even in situations where you would have previously been over the edge. Your thoughts will be clearer, instead of jumbled and racing. Physically, you’ll feel stronger, too, because your body will be free from the affliction of stress and anxiety.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists about how to deal with your stress rather than letting your stress control you, just send a message to m.me/callforbackup.org and we’d be happy to connect with you.

Today – My Mental Needs

What are you planning to do today to take care of your mental needs?

What about our mental dimension?  Whatever your level of formal education, you should always consider yourself a lifelong learner.  You may have traded the classroom for a uniform, but to keep your mind sharp you must be constantly exploring, constantly honing and expanding your understanding of the world around you and regularly discovering how your experiences and what you already know may contribute to new learning and constant growth.  Yes, you should attend every training program that you can possibly attend, and you should watch training videos on topics related to your work.  But beyond that, challenge yourself to study and learn something new, something outside the realm of “normal” for you.  Reading good books on a variety of topics, listen to podcasts by a number of different speakers, have conversations with people whose life experience is different from your own.  Continue to develop your mind and stay sharp.

You can learn something new every day if you stay curious and engaged.  Maybe you will find some of these suggestions helpful in keeping your mind and intellect sharp, or maybe there are specific things you know will work for you.  The key is to ask yourself whether you both know what to do, and whether you are actually doing it!

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer supporters who can help you with this and other stress management approaches, please send a message to m.me/callforbackup.org and we’d be happy to make that happen. 

Stress Affects Your Body

Are you constantly feeling stressed?  Stress is something we all encounter on a regular basis, but when it starts to have a negative effect on your body and mind, it means you are distressed

What many people don’t know is that stress is a state of being that negatively impacts the body. In fact, stress has a bigger impact on our bodies than most of us realize or care to acknowledge.

Facts About Stress and Your Body

There are some downright scary facts about the toll that stress takes on the body.  When you look at these facts it is hard to deny that we all need to learn how to manage our stress more effectively.  Some of these facts include:

  • More than 40% of all adults have health problems related to stress
  • Up to 90% of all doctor visits are stress-related
  • About 80% of workers are at least a little stressed in the workplace
  • Stress is known to cost American businesses more than $300 billion each year

Seven Ways in Which Your Body is Affected By Stress

There are two kinds of stress. The “good” stress is called eustress, but we generally only hear about the “bad” stress known as chronic stress or distress.

Chronic stress gradually affects your health at first; in fact, you may not even notice the symptoms at all! And if the stress is not managed, the symptoms will get worse, and its effects may even be irreversible.

Seven ways in which stress may manifest itself in your body are:

  1. Depression.  When you are stressed out, it is very common for people to become depressed.  There are only so many chemicals in the brain to help a person deal with stress, and when they are used up, they’re used up.  This can lead to a person becoming profoundly depressed in what seems like a relatively short period of time.
  1. Anxiety.  Those who are stressed are likely to deal with uncontrollable levels of anxiety.  Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and this can cause many different changes in the physiological functioning of the body.
  1. Heart disease.  Stress is very closely linked to heart attacks and death associated with cardiovascular disease.  When stress is not managed, the body breaks down quickly and the heart is often profoundly impacted.
  1. Diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing epidemics in the world and both mental and physical stress can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. The long-term effects associated with this include heart disease, blindness, liver problems, kidney disease, and more.
  1. Hair loss.  We often tease our friends and family when they begin to lose hair, but this can be a symptom of unmanaged stress.  If your hair is falling out prematurely don’t blame genetics; look closely at how you are dealing with the stress in your life and see if there are things you can do to control it more effectively.
  1. Obesity. We often cope with stress by consuming unhealthy, fattening foods.  Plus, stress prohibits the control of necessary chemicals that are needed to break down fat, which can lead to obesity.
  1. Sexual dysfunction.  Stress is one of the most common reasons associated with impotence in men.

As you can see, stress can affect your health in many ways. This is by no means an all-inclusive list of how stress affects your body and health.  You may also suffer from hyperthyroidism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tooth and gum disease, ulcers, and even cancer. Stress is serious stuff! This is all the more reason to start actively managing your stress today.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists about how to better manage the stressors that you are experiencing, just send us a message a m.me/callforbackup.org and we will be glad to connect with you.