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Police Depression: The Silent Killer

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

Depression in police work is a silent killer. Depression can be stealthy, even for the most resilient officer, and can take a physical and mental toll on the mind and body if it goes unrecognized and untreated. Unfortunately, the silence within police culture discourages the acknowledgment of depression and mental illness. This silence cannot continue.

Every year, just as many officers die by their own hand as do officers killed in the line of duty. Yet the silence continues.

[Related: Addressing Mental Wellness and Police Suicides: A Lifelong Commitment]

Police officer distressedAt the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, we honor the men and women who have been killed in the line of duty protecting their communities. We do not honor these officers for the manner in which they lost their lives serving, but rather how they lived their lives protecting their communities.

Yet no officer who has taken his or her own life because of duty-related mental illness has his or her name engraved on the Wall of Heroes. These officers died because of mental health issues brought on by their honorable service to their communities as peace officers. They are the forgotten! Their names are only whispered within their departments because of how they died. Being ignored often contributes to why they got sick in the first place and yet the silence continues.

[Related: Analyzing Law Enforcement Deaths: What’s Missing from These Statistics?]

It’s Time to Acknowledge All Fallen Officers

The United States military lives by a code that they leave no man behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home. It is time to bring all fallen police officers home, regardless of the manner in which they died.

Engrave their names on the wall among the other fallen police heroes. Honor them by speaking their names and acknowledging that depression brought on by police-related work caused this illness that led to their deaths.

It is not about how any of the heroes died in their service to community; it is about how they lived.

Common Signs of Police Officer Depression

Depression is a silent killer in law enforcement because it often builds up slowly, unnoticed, due to constant work-related fatigue and other stressors. In some cases, it is dismissed as just feeling down or under the weather.

Here is a list of common signs of depression:

  • Withdrawing from other officers
  • Feeling sad and hopeless for more than a few days
  • Lack of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reckless drinking of alcohol
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Being restless, agitated, and irritable
  • Weight gain or loss out of the norm
  • Sleeping more than usual (sometimes all day)
  • Trouble with memory (out of character)
  • Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty (signs that last for more than a few days)
  • Anger and rage over something trivial (out of character)
  • Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
  • Trouble functioning in your personal life (department discipline issues, divorce, recent loss of immediately family member)
  • Openly talks about suicide
  • Taking unnecessary risks

If you notice an officer displaying any of these signs for more than a few days, intervene and take the time to check in with them. If you say nothing and ignore the red flags, the outcome could be tragic.

[Related: Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide]

The number one killer of police officers is suicide caused by depression. Yet the silence from within the police profession acknowledging officer depression is deafening.

The time for dialog and the courage to recognize all our law enforcement heroes for their service, regardless of the manner of their deaths, is upon us. Honor these fallen officers by petitioning to have all fallen officers’ names engraved on the memorial in DC. Leave no brother or sister behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home!

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.

 

Comments

Comment(19)

  1. This is so sad but true I’ve always felt that they to paid the ultimate price and should have been recognized for how they lived not how they died .

  2. Police chiefs and fellow officers should take care of each other. They should be able to tell when one of their own could use a little encouragement. Communicate with each other. Be fair to one another and treat everone the same. You have a difficult job and work hard trying to keep people safe and have anormal family life, too. It isa very stressful life for police officers. It is very importat to have a good caring, fair and understanding police chief. God bless you all.

  3. Great Article. Thanks for pointing out what we often think about but hardly talk about. Please take advantage of our no cost officer involved suicide prevention series on our website. http://www.mpitraining.com Go to the site and choose specialty training from the menu bar and then “suicide prevention series” Check out “Suicide, the Black Sheep in the Blue Family.”
    Sincerely,
    David

  4. It is sad that we have to remain quiet otherwise we are taken as weak and pushed to the side! in the face of the ever present danger, the things we see, the people we deal with we are supposed to be just a brick wall and take it all in. Well, it doesn’t work that way. A detective who eats a sandwich while on a murder crime scene does not display normal human behavior. Now, the idea is not to be able to handle situations, the idea is to be able to seek help without being labeled.

  5. Served 30 years with the Vancouver Police after 9 years with the Military Police. We lost two members through incidents on the street but too many through stress, which led to depression and early death from serious health related issues. Far too many funerals for those far too young.

    1. i know when i call a fellow man my brother , my ears are awlways open ,anytime ,,, ive always stressed , lack of communication is the worst flaw, and can result in the worst losses.

  6. Beth Martin Retired Patrol Deputy

    I am now seeing a professional for PTSD. I’ve been retired for 12 yrs and an just now starting to deal with some of the things that happened. I think a big part of the problem is the attitude in which we all start the job with ,and it only gets bigger the longer you’re on the job. I would like to see in the police academy the instructors advise the students it’s ok to show emotions. That you’re going to see alot of things that will effect you and it’s alright to be human. To many times we feel that we have to be strong, and that somehow translates into shoving your feelings into a box and slamming a lock on it. The problem is ,that eventually the box gets full. If you can’t find a way to talk to someone or to deal with it somehow, suicide feels like the only way to keep from repeating those same incidents that you couldn’t deal with in the first place. If the Rookies start the job knowing that it’s ok to talk to another officer or to ask for help without repercussions, then I think depression and PTSD will start to decline. I pray for each and every person and their famlies who have been affected by this.

  7. I am working as a psychologist in a police department in Romania. I understand that this service it doesn’t exist in your country. It sad, because I think it is necessary. Our policemen are evaluated periodically and they have permanently psychological assistance. At any sign of depression they had to go to a psychiatric evaluation and they are restricted from using the guns.
    I like my job and I think I have helped a lot of people. In our system it works!

    1. My department also offers these types of help for depression. The problem is… i don’t want to stop helping others to help my self. When i’m taken off of the road (patrol) i can’t do the one thing that keeps me afloat (helping people). My job isn’t only a job its a way of life. I got into this to stop bad people from hurting good people. When I stop because of a weakness (depression) others get hurt… So in turn my needs and wants get put aside because others need me more then I need to feel better..

      1. Jeremy,
        There are basic rules of the universe and one of them is; you cant give what you TRULY and authentically don’t have. At least in the magnitude of greatness you could give it. Your love to help others is why you are a LEO. However your denying yourself a life of wellness is not a answer. You very much do count in more ways then you can imagine. Just like the yin and yang sign. There are times to be out there in 100% force and intelligence and then there are times you need to take care of yourself. Without one the other can not exists. The end result is and always will be, is to be your best for others you need to give and be the best to yourself. There are many options out there to help and Im not talking talk therapy either. Please check into Resilience training by John Quinn.. former Lt of the Glendale CO PD. it works. Thank you for helping those in need. Stay safe and diligent.

  8. I like to show my support to the thin blue line and those who keep it blue in the first place. I could never possibly understand the pain an officer feels but I know I want to take away their burdens if I could. I can only pray and support and let them know, I got your backs if you ever need my strength.

  9. Retirement is slowly killing me. Hero to zero. Forced out 10 years after recovering from a fatal ambush. Blinded in one eye but served faithfully and even harder. New Sheriff and now I have a plaque.
    Sleeping and thoughts I’d never have. Fortunately, I’m a Christian and seek comfort there. But coming up empty on outlet. My wife said it was time, time for what? Gopher and stay at home staring at blank TV, it’s on but I’m kind of not. Suicide has never crossed my mind. Gone and forgotten by my department I served for over 38 years. Tried to get part time airport police job and failed my background. Seriously!! It had to be the newly elected sheriff that I refused to support. Look at loss prevention jobs. Wrestle gang bangers over stolen pants sounds crazy. Trying to take Red Cross training to teach. But it’s slow go and expensive. Retirement pays the bills.
    My wife is disabled and if you gets out once a week she is doing good. My friends have fallen out of sight.
    I understand how desperate retirees can be. I have a lot to offer but after a year of looking can’t find a place to really fit. Anyway just needed to vent somewhere today. Blue Forever

  10. 11 years in law enforcement, the occasional beer turned into a beer a day, then 3, then a 6 pack. My ex wife kicked me out. I started drinking even more to kill the pain of losing my family along with the other stuff. I was a patrol Sgt., then I lost my stripes. My mother disowned me, car got repo’d, evicted from my apartment. Now I’m living with my girlfriend and now shes becoming intolerant to me. I CANT do anything about it because I KNOW that I will be fired and probably lose all of my certifications. Police work is all I know how to do, I have no other skills and I have kids to provide for. I have looked for support groups and therapists that specialize in working with military, public safety and the like…..nothing. Especially in my area because we just don’t have that stuff around here. I am surprised that I have a job because I broke down in front of my Chief a few weeks ago after getting a frivolous complaint that just sent me over the edge. He talked to me for a bit but all he could offer was, “It’ll get better.”. Seems to me like its only getting worse. I have nightmares (or in my case daymares since I’m midnight watch) nearly every time I try to sleep. Sometimes they are about things in the past, sometimes about things that never happened, sometimes they just don’t even make any damn sense. Rolling to midnight watch has helped to decrease a little bit of the stress, but at the same time added different types of stressors.

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