National Officer Safety Initiatives
PREVENTING SUICIDE AMONG LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS: AN ISSUE BRIEF
[Editor’s Note: This month is Suicide Prevention Month. Police officers witness some of the most traumatic events in our society. That alone makes police officers a particularly high risk for suicide. Police officers are two to three times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed in the line of duty. The following report addresses this tragedy in our public service and ways to improve officer health and well-being.]
The following issue brief [see link below] synthesizes the current state of knowledge regarding the prevention of suicide among law enforcement officers.
While the exact number of officers who die by suicide each year is not known, research suggests that more officers die by suicide each year than in the line of duty.
The non-profit organization BLUE H.E.L.P. has estimated that these deaths increased from 143 to 228, from 2016 to 2019.
However, these numbers are likely to represent an undercount, as they are derived from Internet searches and volunteer reports made by family members, friends, colleagues, and others. Moreover, suicide deaths are often unreported or misreported due to stigma and other reasons.
Risk and Protective Factors
Law enforcement officers are vulnerable to the same
risk and precipitating factors for suicide as others in the general population, such as mental illness, substance misuse, social isolation, relationship problems, and legal and financial issues.
Additional factors more specific
to the law enforcement profession include exposure to suicide and other traumatic events (e.g., child abuse, violence, death of a colleague), easy access to firearms and skills in their use, and organizational stressors (e.g., shift work, administrative burden). Protective factors
that appear particularly relevant to preventing suicide among police officers include access to culturally appropriate mental health and wellness services, resilience (particularly skills for coping with work-related stressors), and social support.
Evidence-based Strategies and Best Practices
Research suggests that suicide prevention programs are more likely to succeed when they are comprehensive, i.e., they combine multiple strategies aimed at affecting risk and protective factors at various levels of influence (individual, interpersonal, community, societal). Examples include the 4-component Together for Life program conducted with police officers in Québec, Canada, and the 11-component U.S. Air Force Suicide Prevention Program.
Police departments nationwide are increasingly adopting practices aimed at promoting mental health and wellness and preventing suicide and related problems (e.g., EAP services, peer support, traumatic incident response). However, these practices vary dramatically across agencies.
No national surveillance system currently collects suicide- related data specific to law enforcement, such as data on suicide deaths, attempts, and ideation. Although law enforcement agencies are increasingly incorporating programs and practices aimed at supporting mental health and wellness, few programs have formally evaluated the effectiveness of these efforts. In addition, not much is currently known about suicide prevention among particular subgroups of officers, such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ populations, military service members and veterans, and officers transitioning to retirement or to another career.
Law enforcement agencies should implement comprehensive suicide prevention programs that combine multiple strategies and practices addressing areas such as:
- Leadership and culture.
- Access to culturally competent mental health services n Peer support.
- Suicide prevention training and awareness.
- Event response.
- Family support.
- Limiting access to means of suicide.
- Safe and effective messaging.
Agencies should also develop or enhance their data collection systems, so that the data may be used to guide program planning, determine the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, identify lessons learned, and support continuous improvement.
Read the full report HERE.
See also: Seven Ways to Prevent Police Suicide