Spotting the potential signs of officer suicide

Know what to do and where to turn if you do identify an officer who’s walking a fine mental health line

Sometimes the greatest battle officers find themselves facing is the one you can’t always see being fought. It’s a battle in the mind and it can be deadly. With increasing job stress combining with escalating stresses in many officers’ personal lives, staying alert for signs of an “internal threat” to your fellow officers can be just as critical as watching for threats coming from the outside. Here are a few things you can do:

1.) Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression. There are many and they can easily be located on the Internet. Just a few of the things to watch for:

• An officer who suddenly begins taking unnecessary risks on and off duty
• A shift in attitude and demeanor, like a change from motivated and professional behavior to apathetic and flippant
• Statements of hopelessness like, “None of this really matters anyway. I don’t even know why we try out here. We can’t really do anything anyway. This is a losing battle and I’m tired of it.”
• Loss of interest in recreational things the officer used to like to do previously
• The sudden use of “terminal”-type comments like, “Hey, you’ll take care of my family if something happens to me and I’m not here anymore, right?” or “Listen, if I end up dead I want you to make sure you tell so and so such and such,” etc.
• Noticeable physical changes: weight loss, lack of usual hygiene, an exhausted appearance, etc.
• Increased drinking or signs of drug use

2.) Have the guts to approach a potentially at-risk officer and make the effort to find out what’s going on. If you see start seeing signs of a possible problem, don’t blow it off assuming it will pass. Be discreet but be determined in your approach.

3.) Know what to do and where to turn if you do identify an officer who’s walking a fine mental health line. Familiarize yourself with the employee assistance and/or psych services your agency offers and get some advice from them on the next steps to take with an at-risk officer. It’s better for you to know immediately what to do next rather than having to take the time to research the appropriate course of action after you’ve determined there’s a problem. Time can be of the essence in these situations.

4.) Be honest with yourself. If you’re feeling depressed, DO get help. Know that help IS available, that there are scores of people who DO care and that personal challenges of every sort do pass. You’re not alone. Reach out…

Stay safe — physically and mentally.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, providing police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column, and has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips. Doug hosts the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, and is the host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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