Anyone who follows law enforcement has observed a significant increase in the number of officers taking their own lives. Every single time I see an article or post about it, the same questions and answers keep popping up in each author’s writing:
1) Why didn’t they ask for help?
2) I’m here, for anyone who needs to talk.
I am not saying this isn’t a valid question or a sincere offer to help. I’ve posted the same things myself. I meant it when I wrote those offerings of help to others.
I have answered the phone at 2:00AM, just to talk with someone who is having issues. I’ve reached out to check on a friend. I’ve fought back tears for those I never knew were suffering.
But still, that first question continues to haunt a lot of people.
THE REAL REASON …
There is an answer on why people do not ask for help. It’s the same reason I refused to ask for so long: It’s the social stigma that goes along with asking. Admittedly, every person views and feels things in their own unique way. There is little doubt that a feeling of insecurity looms when an officer needs to ask for help.
Why? There is a simple answer.
First, as soon as an officer ask for help, the attitude of everyone around them changes.
Administration starts looking at them and labeling them a potential liability. They are considered a cancer who needs to be cut and removed at all cost.
Co-workers do the same, but for different reason. Questions arise:
- Will they be there when they are needed?
- Can I count on them for back-up, will I have to risk my life to save them, if they freeze?
The very same people the officer has relied on for much needed support are suddenly gone. When I was struggling a few years ago, the members of my crew – the guys I worked and lived with every day – suddenly vanished. There were two exceptions. Those were the two officers going through the same thing; they understood.
CIVILIANS JUST DON’T “GET” IT
The second reason cops don’t ask for help is the challenge of dealing with the process itself. With very few exceptions, the professional counselors your department sends you to for ‘help’ you have ZERO understanding of what you actually do.
- They’ve never held someone, looking in their eyes as they took their last breath.
- They’ve never worked on an unresponsive child where you failed to revive them. All you can see is your own child in your eyes.
- They’ve never gone into the scene and observed the dead bodies that have been shot, mangled in car wrecks, found hanging from ropes, or any other cause of an ugly death.
- They’ve never had to look into the eyes of a man or woman, knowing you were about to use deadly force against him/her.
No, they are civilian doctors who have been spared these tragedies by the officers in their community who did it for them. With no understanding, how can they help?
They seem condescending, uncaring, ignorant about your job, and unable to provide any meaningful answers. Yet, this is the person worker’s comp relies upon to determine your future.
AFFIX THE LABEL HERE
The third reason no one asks for help is the label that comes with it. Perhaps the most dreaded label you can receive as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, paramedic, or soldier is PTSD.
It is the label I’ve been diagnosed with and the label which brought about my retirement. It’s a label that is completely misunderstood by nearly everyone. Just look at the lawmakers pushing for more gun control. They want anyone with PTSD restricted from owning a firearm.
People labeled with PTSD are considered loose cannons, ready to go off and kill masses of people at any moment in time. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is this misconception that drives most cops to never ask for help.
It is this misconception that I believe leads most officers to take their own life instead of asking for help. It is the result of pure ignorance by those who don’t understand what PTSD really is and what has caused it.
If we want to end this horrible crisis of suicide with officers, fire fighters, soldiers, and paramedics, then we must change how PTSD is viewed.. Until then, the tragedies will continue and more lives will be lost.
READ MORE: THE WOUNDED BLUE
Are solutions available?
Yes, but it will require a complete change in the way we look and treat those who ask for help. It will require a complete change in the way those who ask for help are looked upon by others.
Officers with PTSD are not broken, worthless, loose cannons. No! Rather, we are different, hurting, and just need people to learn about PTSD and treat us with some understanding.
Until then, I am here for my Brothers and Sisters. I know those who are here for me. We get stronger through each other: no judgement, no labels, no fear, just a listening ear.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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