Let’s come right out with it… this blog is about First Responder suicide. A word that is tiptoed around in the civilian world carries more weight with our community. We are first on call for cleaning up a suicide. We are the assistance that families look for when they’ve found their loved one deceased, watching over our shoulder as we try, and fail, to resuscitate.
But what about us when we walk away from the scene? We know what a failed suicide looks like. We know what a suicide by gunfire looks like, hanging, overdose… the list goes on an on. Unfortunately, for most of us, suicide is a very normal part of our career.
As it sits, right now, we have lost 68 law enforcement officers to suicide, 93 first responders in total. A statistic that is, truthfully, unacceptable. Nearly double the amount of officers killed in the line of duty by suspects are now dying by their own hands. Why are First Responders taking their own lives? What is it that holds them back from speaking up about their feelings? When do we #smashthestigma around mental health in the First Responder community? And most importantly, how can we change within our departments/agencies?
The day you graduate your academy or training program, the day you get that badge or uniform, is extremely momentous. You’re in this because you want to make your town safer, or you want to save lives, or you want to make a difference in your community; there’s a part of you that feels like a superhero and people remind you that you are. But even Superman had a kryptonite that would bring him to his knees.
As the “heroes,” there’s and unspoken pressure that you have to save the day, no matter what the situation you’re called into. But sometimes we can’t save them… Let me repeat that, sometimes you can’t save them. This can be a traumatizing, and if it is, then it is one of perhaps many in a chain of cumulative traumas you’ve faced in your career.
Unless we deal with these traumas as they occur, they will just build, and build, and build until one day our tower of traumas just tumbles over and brings us down.
We change over our careers, and as we experience more in our career we are often hardened by the things we see… but that hardening is only occuring on the exterior. What about what’s inside?
CULTURE - #SMASHTHESTIGMA
When was the last time you truly checked in with someone in your circle? When was the last time you dove a little deeper in conversation? More than just, “How are you doing?” I bet it was longer than you’d like to admit. We need to be having more intentional conversations that are bigger than surface level. By checking in on the people in your circle with deeper questions, you’re watching their six. When the answers to questions start to deviate from the norm, you’ll notice and you’ll know there’s things worth talking more about.
The culture within our community is to be strong, be resilient, show no fear and remain unshakable. So when someone is shaken, we often times just let it roll off of us, we tell them to “toughen up,” to “just move on,” or we try to distract it away. That has to change. That’s part of the stigma we’ve created to just leave traumas or situations alone so that we can just move on, but we have to deal with it. And when someone in our circle is working through trauma, we must be supportive about that so that have strength in our teams. There is strength through healing. And my challenge for you within your agency is to push to change the culture, to #smashthestigma around mental health awareness and wellness.
MENTAL HEALTH PRACTICES WITHIN AGENCIES
Hopefully you’ve read this far, because this is potentially the most important part to read. Change starts from within, it begins with leadership and supports our First Responders in their careers. And if you’re within leadership or administration within your department, YOU need to speak up as well.
And I’ll tell you right now, EAP efforts are simply not enough. Most First Responders won’t talk to a peer group, let alone a random therapist. So that means that we need departments step up and set up a program following critical incidents where the First Responder has someone qualified and culturally competent to talk to within the first 72 hours of the incident. This means a therapist who is not only familiar with trauma, but someone who can understand the trauma that the First Responder experienced and walk alongside them as they work through their traumas.
If you are an agency that is planning to restructure your Mental Health Program, but isn’t sure where to start, feel free to reach out via Contact Form or to firstname.lastname@example.org for Agency Consultation.
Through our Mission, we plan to spread the message that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You do not have to fight your demons, try to work through trauma, or struggle alone.
It is time that we #smashthestigma around Mental Health Wellness, Suicide Awareness, and help our brothers and sisters in uniform prolong not only their careers… but their lives.
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