I was recently in a conversation where the subject of suicide came up. “Suicide is for the weak.” And I have a confession to make, I didn’t stand up and say that’s not true.
If you’ve been around me long enough, suicide in Law Enforcement and Fire/EMS, you’ll know that I talk about this from time to time. In some cases, It’s like fighting an uphill battle. Cops and firefighters put on hard exteriors. You are not easy trusting in most cases. And a lot of times, you push their feelings out of sight so others can’t see them. The problem is, that feelings are part of the human experience and need to be dealt with.
I’ll be further honest. You see a lot of things as “routine” that I honestly pray that I never see. I’ve been on 16 different ride-alongs. And I’ve been fortunate not to see anything so horrible I dream about it at night. Mangled car crashes…brutal deaths of children…blood-soaked rooms from murder/suicides. Not only do they have to deal with that, they have to tell the person’s family. (Death notifications are something no one wants to do, but I may cover some things I’ve found while preparing myself for this. More on that in the future).
Who do you talk to? Sometimes meeting with “the guys” and talking it out may serve to get it out of your system. But what if it doesn’t? What if you are still having nightmares 6 months after a “critical incident”? If so , your trauma may run deeper into PTSD. Now I know some of you may be thinking “PTSD? That’s a load of crap.” Actually, it’s not. It can be diagnosed and TREATED. If you want to hear about it from a cop, read this article.
Now, I’m not naive. Not all stress leads to PTSD. Not all people with PTSD commit suicide. And not all people who commit suicide do so because of trauma.
My grandfather “papaw” as I called him, almost got me hurt once. Seems that I had a great uncle who did not like loud noises. So he puts me up to walking behind him (you know whats coming right?) and yelling Boo! Before I could finish getting that out, he had wheeled around and covered about 10 feet in seconds…coming towards me. I was about 6 and that scared me silly. He felt bad for it later, and I had no idea what happened. WWII soldiers called it “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”. Today, it’s called PTSD. My uncle had nightmare for years, and still to this day. I visited him in the nursing home and he was recalling (or re-living) this while he was sleeping. If we knew as much about PTSD as we do now, maybe we could have made his life better. Maybe his dreams wouldn’t be filled with horror.
So what does that have to do with you. On a scale of one to ten, your stress may be a 3. Count yourself fortunate. Find ways to combat stress now. And have people in your life that you trust and can see if you are fighting a battle bigger than you. And give them permission to say the hard things to you, things you may not want to hear. And when trauma comes, know where to turn for help.
If your stress is more like an eight, seek professional help. Seriously. If you want to keep it “unofficial”, there are ways to do that. If your department has a chaplain, talk to them. If not, call someone in your area who can help.
And if you have thoughts of suicide, get help now. Pick up the phone. Call someone. make an appointment. Contact me and I’ll do whatever I can. You can be happy.
There are some good sites with information about suicide, the facts and just how many people are tempted. Most of these are geared toward my First Responder friends, but there are lots of good tips anyone can glean from them.
Jeff Shannon has some great articles about stress and how to beat it at http://policementalhealth.blogspot.com/.
Dr. John Violanti (Former State Trooper) contributes articles on Police Suicide Prevention.
The Badge of Life has stats and prevention tips.
Peggy Sweeney has some help for firefighters.