Home Career Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide
Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide

Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide


By Mark Bond, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

The police profession can no longer ignore the silent suffering of its officers. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real, and it is a lot more common among first responders than initial indications.

Preventing police suicide is every officer’s responsibility.

However, the major hurdle to addressing this professional tragedy is the silence of the first-responder culture. Until recently, this unwillingness to openly discuss the impacts of PTSD has kept mental health issues a professional secret in law enforcement (Mittal et al., 2013). This has happened despite the fact that so many officers are impacted by traumatic events that often lead to PTSD.

[Related: Critical Incident Stress Management Interventions Help Heal First Responders]

Research on Police Suicides

In one research study, O’Hara, Violanti, Levenson, & Clark (2013) showed that suicide is not openly discussed in police culture because officers view police suicide as dishonorable to the profession. Additional research on PTSD by Chae & Boyle (2013) linked the increase of suicidal behavior to those who suffer from PTSD. The O’Hara, Violanti, Levenson, & Clark (2013) study focused on police suicides for the years 2008, 2009, and 2012. Here are some of the statistical data from the study:

  • 2008 police suicides: 141
  • 2009 police suicides: 143
  • 2012 police suicides: 126

Profile of Officers Who Commit Suicide

The O’Hara, Violanti, Levenson, & Clark (2013) study provided some key indicators from the statistical data. By analyzing the data, law enforcement agencies now have the information they need to build a police officer suicide prevention program. Here are some of the findings from the study about which officers tend to be at higher risk of suicide:

  • The average age of officer in 2012 was 42 years old at time of suicide
  • The average time on job as a police officer at the time of suicide was 16 years of service
  • 91% of suicides were by male officers
  • The age in which police officers were most at risk was ages 40 to 44
  • The time on the job when police officers are most at risk was 15 to 19 years of service
  • 63% of police suicide victims were single
  • 11% of police suicide victims were military veterans
  • Firearms were used in 91.5% of police suicides
  • In 83% of the police officer suicides, personal problems appear prevalent prior to the suicide
  • 11% of the police officers committing suicide had legal problems pending
  • California and New York had the highest reported police suicides

It is important for law enforcement leaders to use this information to establish a profile of potential at-risk officers and proactively intervene by providing mental health resources and departmental support.

Critical Warning Signs That All Officers Should Look For

Chae and Boyle (2013) researched critical warning signs that indicate a police officer is having suicidal ideations. By recognizing these signs and combining it with the statistical data listed above, law enforcement agencies can work to develop a proactive suicide prevention program for their officers.

Some of the warning signs include the following:

  • The officer is talking about suicide or death, and even glorifying death.
  • Officer is giving direct verbal cues such as “I wish I were dead” and “I am going to end it all.”
  • Officer is giving less direct verbal cues, such as “What’s the point of living?”, “Soon you won’t have to worry about me,” and “Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?”
  • The officer is now self-isolating from friends and family.
  • The officer is expressing the belief that life is meaningless or hopeless.
  • The officer starts giving away cherished possessions.
  • The officer is exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn. This is a very dangerous sign because the officer has come to terms with his/her own death and is relieved the end is near.
  • The officer is neglecting his or her appearance and hygiene.
  • The officer is annoyed that they are going to do something that will ruin his/her career, but that they don’t care.
  • Officer openly discusses that he/she feels out of control.
  • The officer displays behavior changes that include appearing hostile, blaming, argumentative, and insubordinate or they appear passive, defeated, and hopeless.
  • The officer develops a morbid interest in suicide or homicide.
  • The officer indicates that he/she is overwhelmed and cannot find solutions to his/her problems.
  • The officer asks another officer to keep his/her weapon.
  • The officer is acting out of character by inappropriately using or displaying his/her weapon unnecessarily.
  • The officer exhibits reckless behavior by taking unnecessary risks on the job and/or in his/her personal lives. The officer acts like he/she has a death wish.
  • The officer carries weapons in a reckless, unsafe manner.
  • The officer exhibits deteriorating job performance.
  • The officer has recent issues with alcohol and/or drugs.

Preventing police suicide is every officer’s responsibility and is an obligation of every member of the law enforcement community.

It is important to remember that it takes strong leadership and tireless courage to change this culture of silence and that such change does not weaken the profession, but instead strengthens the bond that makes it a noble and honorable profession, protecting the weak and innocent from harm.

Here are some additional resources on what you can do to help prevent police suicide:
The Badge of Life
Police Suicide Prevention and Awareness

Remember, the ethical warrior leads by example and supports others when they are down—especially when that person is one of our own.

About the Author: Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military and local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with summa cum laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at Mark.Bond(at)mycampus.apus.edu.


Chae, M. H., & Boyle, D. J. (2013). Police suicide: Prevalence, risk, and protective factors. Policing, 36(1), 91-118. doi:10.1108/13639511311302498

Larned, J. G., M.A. (2010). Understanding police suicide. Forensic Examiner, 19(3), 64-71,125. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

Mittal, D., Drummond, K. L., Blevins, D., Curran, G., Corrigan, P., & Sullivan, G. (2013). Stigma associated with PTSD: Perceptions of treatment seeking combat veterans. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 36(2), 86-92. doi:10.1037/h0094976

O’Hara, A. F., Violanti, J. M., Levenson, Jr., R. L., & Clark, Sr., R. G. (2013). National police suicide estimates: Web surveillance study III. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, 15(1), 31-38. Retrieved from http://www.omicsonline.com/open-access/currentissue-international-journal-of-emergency-mental-health-and-human-resilience.pdf


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  1. Amazing information and such a well written, honest and to the point article with no fluff and just facts. I know this because I have been the one that picked up on those warning signs and also the one who didnt. I know the consequences when those warning signs are not seen or taken care of. Thank you

  2. Kelly,
    Survivor’s guilt is also just as painful and something that is also not openly discussed. We just need to stay strong and force the dialog out into the open so we can truly work together to be proactive.
    Thank you and be safe!
    Mark B

    1. Mark Bond yes survivors guilt is just a pain full this is know very well because i am the brother of Detective Joseph Gibson Badge# 8015 Phila Police Dept sadly in dec 2010 my brother took his own life there needs to be help from the dept that a loved one served esp when a family member of the officer reaches out to the dept – to talk to some one and some depts will turn the family member away and not help the family at all which is sad

  3. Admin needs to recognize this issue, ptsd, suicide, survivors guilt as legitimate issues and create policy’s where these folks can get readily available and in person help, instead of getting rid of these officers and labeling them as useless. there are no protections for these officers and no consequences for admin. whats the point of officers effected reaching out when their job is on the line from rogue admin.??!!

  4. I know first hand what it’s like, from several points of view. I’ve lost friends, co-workers, both men and women. The agency always says the same thing: “if only we had known, we might have been able to do something”. Other officers, they say: “they didn’t feel right telling anyone”, or “the poor son of a bitch would not listen to anybody”. The agency knows most of the time long before anyone else, even the victim. The agency just doesn’t want to get locked into the potential money issue, workers comp, disability, and all that comes with that. Workers comp doctors tell you there is no such thing as PTSD in police work. I almost agree: The shooting you live through is not nearly as traumatic as the secret squirrel investigation that follows. But whatever causes the stress and later the depression and eventually the belief that suicide is a viable choice to solve all your problems. The person in the middle of it all, does not realize what is real and not real because it all starts flowing together. If just one fellow officer calls and says “hi” it brings a moment of…I don’t know what to call it. I have had two people in three months call me, and for just a couple minutes it felt like I might be alright. Neither of those people where from admin, and only one of them is still active patrol, the other is retired. (Any of your stats show a relationship between long term injury & pain treatment and depression?)

    1. Peter-Thank you for your service and your courage to help yourself and others. PTSD is real, and something not discussed because it goes against the police norm of “suck it up and drive one!” It is not that simple to move forward at times. It does not have to be just one traumatic event but a combination of constant exposure to trauma that can bring on PTSD. I do not have any research data that shows a relationship between long-term injury & pain treatment and depression as the moment. This is such an important area that needs additional research studies so we can force the dialog and start the understanding and healing. Stay safe! Mark B

    1. It’s very common, but never talked about. I am a combat veteran and a retired police officer. I am currently in treatment for PTSD and never saw it coming. I thought I was just battling some anxiety that goes with the job. After I retired, that anxiety got much, much worse, and many other symptoms began to appear very quickly. I recognized that whatever it was was getting out of control and seemed out help at the VA. My biggest mistake was just being ignorant to the fact that this happens to cops…a lot. So just being aware of it gives you somewhat of an advantage. If you do decide to become a cop and you notice symptoms appearing, do not wait to get help. I probably should’ve seeked out help about 15 years ago. I’m just glad I’m still here and getting the help I need…

  5. Great article, I am interested in learning more about the statics for correctional officer/staff. Can you help me locate that information? Thanks

  6. My son committed suicide 6-16-15 and I never thought this would ever happen.He fits the profile mentioned in your statistics.He was a detective, ex-marine, for, firearms instructor and police officer. He was a officer and detective for 15 years.He had problems with his ex wife who turned the kids against him.They never called on his birthday or fathers day.That I know really affected him.But he would never discuss his feelings.I believe he just could not cope any longer.He was a wonderful son, father and officer. He was 43 yrs. Old.

    1. It’s hard to talk about “it” because I never knew what “it” was. My ex-wife apparently did. I just know that after a patrol shift where I had been run ragged the last thing I wanted to do (after doing all those reports) was tell my wife all that crap all over again. It didn’t help ANYONE to see how and why people do what they do. Police officers must keep secrets….many of them……and that causes isolation because your spouse can get you sued (my first one almost got me sued by a Federal judge after I arrested his juvie son!!!!) We who wear the badge understand and we try like hell to cover one another but the do-gooders are always ready to launch an attack when we accidentally show the blue wall behind which I placed LEO, FD and military. Sorry to tell you folks, but yeah, I showed favoritism toward these groups. I also arrested some from each group as well, when they stepped too damn far outta line. I’ve arrested big politicians and politicians of both parties. I’ve arrested friends and cut slack to people I didn’t like. It was the right thing to do if I did it. I’ve hurt people intentionally and I have to live with that. It had to be done. My actions have resulted in the death of a friend and I have heard the gunshots which killed an officer I knew too well. Being a cop is like being woken up to run a 100 yd dash starting right NOW. The next minute you’re at a burglary after-the=fact and that is followed by a stolen car pursuit. Then you go to lunch and don’t get to eat it because a violent domestic just came in. You throw down a $5 on the table and run out to respond while your food finishes cooking. The waitress brings it to an empty table wit a five. It’s not her fault! And after that you are 10-8 for the remainder of your 12 hour shift.

  7. After spending my life where I belonged, in police work, I find myself retired, alone again, sad, drunk and having only cop friends. I taught rookies to beware of this as an FTO but I failed to see the sumbitch creeping up behind me. I was too busy looking out for others to see the darkness engulfing me. Now, with only ex-cops as friends…and they’re all broken down….I wonder why I was deaf to my own teaching. I was a firearms instructor who taught about the after-affects of taking a life and what police life REALLY IS but somehow the SOB in the dark got me. Better me than the public, right? Can I get an AMen?


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