Keeping Our Heroes Safe: A Comprehensive Approach to Destigmatizing Mental Health Issues in Law Enforcement

The suicide of a police officer is a tragedy on multiple levels: the senseless loss of the officer’s life to his or her family, community, department, and the law enforcement profession. Recent estimates on national law enforcement suicides were reported to be 141 in 2008 and 126 in 2012.1 Although these numbers do not indicate higher rates than a matched demographic group in the general population, leaders can support a continuum of prevention strategies that reduces the stigma associated with asking for help and culturally deters police suicides. The fact that suicidal urges could overcome one of our “heroes behind the badge” can be shocking and unthinkable, and, for so long, it was the secret law enforcement dared not discuss.

Many in the law enforcement profession have begun to discuss this “secret” in hopes of reducing future police suicides. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has initiated efforts to break this silence, as evidenced by past conference presentations, magazine articles, and the recent National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health (“Breaking the Silence”).2 The wider law enforcement community is also embracing the concepts of wellness and resiliency with innovative programs aimed at promoting the overall health and well-being of law enforcement officers. Familiar concepts such as training, coaching, and mentoring apply not only to the success of becoming officers, but also to the resiliency officers develop throughout their careers by successfully adapting and thriving in the profession despite the many adversities encountered.