Losing her husband to suicide: How one widow is helping other cops
Suicide touches all demographics and the aftermath touches many lives
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around one million lives are lost worldwide to suicide, with approximately 43,000 of those lost yearly in the U.S. Suicide is a multifaceted and perplexing issue, leaving many to question why.
Suicide touches all demographics and the aftermath touches many lives. The idea behind National Suicide Prevention Week is to provide events for families and friends to honor and remember loved ones gone too soon. In addition to honoring those lost, the bigger mission is to save lives before someone may see suicide as an option.
Many characteristics increase one’s risk of suicide (such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, availability to weapons, mental health issues, substance use and abuse). According to the CDC, males account for almost 80 percent of all completed suicides. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention showed white males accounted for seven of 10 suicides in 2014. Suicide is highest among the elderly (85 years of age and older) and the second highest rate fluctuates between individuals who are between 45 to 64 and 15 to 24 years of age. In addition, half of all suicides were completed with the use of a firearm and the risk for suicide and homicide are increased when a weapon is present in the home.
In memory of Paul Buchanan
The statistics are alarming, but what stands out is this profile: White male, 15 to 64 years old, with accessibility to firearms. This profile seemingly represents a majority of law enforcement officers nationwide.
In 2013, over 88 percent of police officers nationwide were male, with the majority of them being white. Officers deemed at-risk also fall within the age ranges mentioned above and they all have access to firearms (i.e., agency issued and personal). Suicide risks increase for individuals at the rank of officer with 10 to 12 years of service, married with children. These suicides often take place off duty and in the home with an issued service weapon.
Suicide numbers will never be completely accurate due to misclassification, concealment and questionable reporting. Many individuals debate the number of yearly police suicides, but one suicide is too many. One is too many when it is your loved one or fellow officer. Trish Buchanan knows this hurt as her husband Officer Paul Buchanan took his life in 2013.
Trish explained that besides being a police officer, Paul was a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew and a friend to all. He was a dedicated LEO for 24 years. Paul received the title “Officer of the Year” in 2008 and was the recipient of numerous awards and commendations. Paul was married for 29 years to Trish, his best friend. They had two sons, one presently a correctional officer and the other proudly serving his country. Paul loved his family deeply. He did not drink, smoke, gamble, do drugs or have financial or marital problems. He exercised regularly and took care of his health.
How, then, does this happen to someone like Paul?
Though Paul took great care of his health, the stress and trauma of the job contributed to struggles with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic injury. In the fall of 2012, Paul was ultimately diagnosed with panic disorder and months later on March 12, 2013, Paul barricaded himself in the police department bathroom and ended his life.
In a note to his family, Paul wrote: “….make my death an issue and help other people that are like me…I wish I could tell people that every time I think of work I get stressed out and anxious but if I did I would be out of a job…”
Helping officers in crisis
Paul’s family does not hide behind his suicide. Trish has been open and honest and has established an organization called Believe 208 in Paul’s memory to help other officers and first responders who are in crisis and struggling. Trish believes that Paul’s death was not in vain and that something good can come from his tragic death.
Believe 208 works with the non-profit organization Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement (CABLE). Believe 208 and CABLE have formed an alliance to enhance awareness and support of law enforcement officer mental health through:
1. Hosting an annual race: "Believe 208: Run for the Brave and Finest” promotes community awareness and to counteract the stigma of seeking help to address crises affecting one’s emotional health.
2. Enhancing website and social media options to link users to local and national resources.
3. Educating mental health providers including Employee Assistance Providers about police culture and police exposure to unique stressors.
4. Hosting a yearly conference/workshop for law enforcement and mental health providers to promote, sustain and enhance resilience.
5. Expanding Peer Support Training and developing regional peer support networks.
6. Developing and disseminating informational resources for families.
Trish hopes to bring light to the subject of police suicide by talking about it. Our LEOs and first responders need to know they are not alone in their struggles and that help is available. Suicide is never the answer. Officer Buchanan was not a number. He was a real person and he is truly missed.
Blue Wall Institute
National Police Suicide Foundation
National Suicide Hotline
Safe Call Now