On July 27, an NYPD officer was found dead after dying by suicide. This is the fifth suicide amongst NYPD officers in the last two months, causing Commissioner O'Neill to declare a "mental health crisis." While the NYPD is doing everything in their power to protect the city they call home, it opens them up to sights and experiences that are scarring — debilitating if the appropriate, necessary help is not readily available.
Twenty-five percent of police officers experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their career, almost four times the national average.
More police die by suicide than in the line of duty.
Members of law enforcement report having elevated rates of depression, PTSD, burnout, and other anxiety-related mental illnesses.
In hindsight, police officers receive hours upon hours of training in how to dilute someone else's mental health crisis. They learn all about suicide attempts, mentally ill shooting situations, and other crisis that we all hope to never encounter. They know the stats better than anyone. They know how to handle these situations better than anyone — that's why they're our first call if someone is on a roof ready to jump.
They're who we call for help. Our first line of defense. People who have made it their life's mission to serve us and the city we call home.
This mental health crisis calls for us to return the favor and advocate for our police officer's mental health just as they advocate for our wellbeing every day.
As a citizen, here are some things you can do to advocate for your local law enforcement's mental health.
Educate yourself on the facts.
When people find out how many police officers commit suicide, yearly, they're shocked. Acknowledging the facts surrounding law enforcement's mental health will not only make you a more aware citizen, but it will also help you understand where your friends and family who are in law enforcement are coming from. Knowing the mental health stats behind this line of work should encourage you to check in on the people you personally know who may be dealing with something similar.
Volunteer for your local police force's mental health programs.
While many law enforcement offices have rolled out programs that are available to serve officers who need them, what makes a big difference to any local branch is community support. Call your local police station and see what opportunities there are to serve your police officers in this way. The National Alliance for Mental Illnesses hosts walks for mental health awareness that are specific to law enforcement — if one of these walks is not already happening in your city, form one!
Talk about it.
When you see articles like this one "Fifth NYPD officer dies by suicide in two months," don't sadly sigh and move on. Talk about the bad that is happening and form communities who aspire to change that. Why do you think mental health has a history of stigmas and shame? Because people didn't talk about it, connect over it, or discuss how to better the world through the trial. In 2019, we've seen how discussing mental health can lead to growth, community, and a safer world for all of us. This applies to our men and women in blue, too.
Don't assume police officers "signed up for this"
Men and women in the police force signed up to protect their city and the people who live there. Yes, going into a role like this you are made aware of certain factors those before you have experienced. Yet that does not mean they have just accepted to be mentally unwell. "Just make a career change" is not only an unhelpful, embarrassing suggestion for these officers, it may bring them further into that dark space.
Remember that police officers are people first.
Don't walk through life expecting a police officer to give you a ticket or make your life harder. Just as you or I are not just categorized by our job, neither are they. Real mental health initiatives begin when people are set on helping people, that's all there is to it.
While it may be easiest to read stats about police officers' mental health assume the government will do what is necessary to help the "boys in blue," it is a responsibility of citizens to actively participate in ensuring their local police departments are well-suited for mental health care. Sure, there are some fantastic programs that have been rolled out, but the "mental health box" isn't checked with one seminar. The mental health box is checked every day, with active support from everyone, law enforcement and citizens alike.