It’s been a tough couple of weeks.
The Holiday’s can be like that. But this was different.
In the past few days, three current and former law enforcement officers died by their own hand – and a Halifax Health security officer was the tragic victim of a murder/suicide.
One of the victims I knew personally.
In a mix of shock and anger, after contemplating the loss of these bright young people with so much life ahead of them, I recently posted a heartfelt request on social media asking that my active and retired law enforcement brothers and sisters reach out to me if they need help dealing with the demons that can inhabit our psyches after repeatedly being subjected to traumatic events.
I quickly realized, this epidemic isn’t limited to the emergency services.
For instance, it is estimated that 22 military veterans take their own lives each day in the United States – that’s one every 65-minutes.
In Volusia County, our suicide rate significantly outpaces the state average – and this grim statistic has held firm for a long time.
Last year alone, some 125 of our neighbors took their own lives.
Perhaps we should elevate the conversation on what is quickly becoming a public health crisis here on Florida’s Fun Coast and beyond?
I suspect if over one-hundred people died of spinal meningitis this year in Volusia County, the Centers for Disease Control would have a command post established.
Today, I want to address my beloved brothers and sisters in the emergency services.
Since I was a kid, cops have always been my heroes – they still are.
In my 31-years in law enforcement, I saw these extraordinary human beings do some truly heroic things.
Stuff that leaves a physical and emotional mark.
I also saw the devastating physical and emotional aftermath of suicide up close and personal – and while I always struggled to understand the why – the commonalities included addiction, mental illness and a lack of adequate services for both.
Not much has changed since I retired.
After years of ignoring the issue, a recent spate of officer-involved deaths nationwide prompted a study by the Police Executive Research Forum which listed police suicide as a national crisis and occupational hazard – with law enforcement officers at a 54% greater risk than the general public.
Look, I’m not a mental health expert – and I’m certainly no stronger than anyone else – but I know that permanent solutions to temporary problems are never the answer.
I also know that life is infinitely precious. It’s why first responders go into harms way to protect it.
When cops need assistance dealing with a dangerous situation on the street – we know that a call for backup can give us the tactical advantage.
In my day, there was a discrete code that signaled that an officer was in trouble – and once it was broadcast over the radio – it brought immediate help from every officer within range, regardless of jurisdiction.
We know that calling for backup during an emergency is not a sign of weakness – rather, a strategic decision to increase safety and improve the odds of successfully resolving the issue – and the same should apply when the old memories of traumatic experiences come calling and the black dog starts growling. . .
In my view, the emergency services are making strides to break down the old barriers and stigma of asking for help, but, obviously, we’re not there yet.
Many agencies offer employee assistance programs that work with insurance carriers and service providers to meet the unique needs of first responders. I happen to believe that some of the most effective prevention programs involve confidential peer support policies that provide a lifeline for members in crisis.
Regardless, it’s time we develop a comprehensive national strategy for effectively dealing with this growing crisis and assist first responders with healing, advocate for benefits for those suffering with PTSD, and acknowledge the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women in our community.
That includes our dispatchers and emergency communications professionals whose needs have been overlooked for far too long.
In my view, it’s also time that, as a family, we admit that we are all equally screwed up – nothing about this job is “normal” and on some days it can be a real bitch – situations that are difficult, if not impossible, to forget.
Add the cumulative effects of shift work, stress, trauma, the sights, sounds and smells, the aftermath of accidents, death notifications, the constant exposure to man’s inhumanity, public perceptions and a thousand other job-related risks and you realize that none of us get out completely unscathed.
As a result, we all carry the scars.
Since 2016, nearly 600 law enforcement officers have taken their lives in the US.
This has to stop. Now.
If you need help – you damn well better reach out to me and let’s do whatever it takes to get over the hump.
Please know there are credible outside resources available that can help you work through a crisis – or provide treatment to help support your physical, mental and emotional health long-term.
At the end of the day – we’re all we have – so let’s take care of each other. Dammit.
Let’s also consider the needs of family members and our neighbors, especially during the holidays.
I love first responders – you’re the only people I ever really related to – and I’m here for you.
Photo Credit: WFTV