Trauma and Suicide within Law Enforcement
Trauma is a serious thing that needs to be taken a closer look at, it is the third largest cause of death worldwide for males and fourth largest death worldwide for females, it was estimated to have caused 10% of all deaths in 1990 (Bourbeau, 1993; Girolami et al., 1999; Murray and Lopez, 1996). “Trauma is defined as one or more events perceived to the individual as harmful or life-threatening, usually causing adverse effects to the individual’s well-being” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019).
Law enforcement officers are at great risk of being exposed to trauma during their work, and the officers are also at a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), increased suicidal risk, and increased substance use (Collazo, 2022). Police officers are at great risk of being exposed to multiple traumas throughout their careers, it has been estimated that they witness anywhere from 10 to 900 traumatic events throughout their career (Papazogulou & Tuttle, 2018; Rudofossi & Lund, 2009). It is estimated that 15% of male and 18% of female law enforcement officers develop PTSD compared to 1.3% to 5.5% of the general population (Berger et al., 2012, Frans et al., 2005, Hartley et al., 2013).
1.216 first responders ended their own life from January 1st, 2017 to February 27th, 2023, 811 of these individuals were law enforcement officers who majority were active officers at the time (Blue help, 2023). As of February 27th, 2023 16 law enforcement officers have committed suicide, 12 of those were active officers (Blue help, n.d). The trauma that these officers have been exposed to throughout their careers is the leading cause of their suicide and it is important that all officers have access to receive the help that they need without being judged for it. In 2020 there was a discussion on the topic in Dr.Phil who talked to the families of some of these officers and explained that there is a lack of help for them within the police department and that most officers do not seek help out of fear of being judged. In 2019 180 male and 16 female officers lost their lives because they were unable to seek help to the trauma that they were exposed to in their workplace, total of 197 law enforcement officers lost their lives that year which is unacceptable. It is important that not only law enforcement officers but all first responders have access to mental health services that can help them to deal with the trauma that they are exposed to while they are on duty because they are the ones who are responding to situations that most would run away as quickly as they possibly could.
In 2018 the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act 2017 was signed into law, this act recognizes that law enforcement officers need support with their mental health. This act ignores the old way of thinking about mental health where only “crazy” people need help and it is taboo to seek help from a mental health professional. The act is a huge step in the right direction however, there are still approximately 150 law enforcement officers ending their own lives every year and it is clear that the stigmatization of mental health is still a problem and it needs to be changed. It is extremely important to understand that it is okay to talk about your problems and not to judge others who do because it should be encouraged especially for first responders who are often the first people on a scene that is traumatizing.
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