Police Week 2019: Fighting the Stigma of Police Suicide and Its Aftermath
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By Wes O’Donnell, Managing Editor, In Military
“Stop the Stigma.” That was the message at the Blue Honor. Educate. Lead. Prevent. (H.E.L.P.) Police Week 2019 Dinner this past Saturday in Washington, D.C.
Acting on a gracious invitation to cover the event by Blue H.E.L.P. president and co-founder Karen Solomon, I witnessed an emotionally moving tribute to the families of officers lost to police suicide.
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According to Blue H.E.L.P., the organization began in 2015 after the book The Price They Pay was written by two of its founders: Karen Solomon and Jeffrey McGill. It became clear that suicide prevention and care for the families after a police suicide was not offered in law enforcement; compassion and understanding took a backseat to stigma and shame.
In 2017, Blue H.E.L.P. incorporated and received its 501(c)3 designation. It is now the only organization in the country that collects law enforcement suicide data and regularly supports families in the aftermath of a suicide.
In fact, of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States, only three to five percent have suicide prevention training programs.
An Emotionally Charged Night
Seated near the back of the room so that I could snap photos without disrupting the ceremony, I saw a young woman—perhaps no older than 25—weeping at her table. I decided not to document such heartbreaking images with my camera, but the mental picture will be with me forever.
Despite the tears, there was also some levity. Incredible musical performances by both David Bray U.S.A. and singer/songwriter John Preston brought the room together. A particularly well-timed joke by Preston had the room laughing and clapping, which was a well-earned respite from the solemnity of the event.
Keynote Speaker Jon Adler Pleads for More People to Take Action and Help Sufferers
One of the most passionate calls to action came from keynote speaker Jon Adler, former National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association Foundation and the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
His core message was one of action. “The time for talking about suicide is over. It’s time to take action.”
Key Takeaways from the Blue H.E.L.P. Police Week Dinner
One of my key takeaways from the dinner, which translates well for those of us in the military veteran community, is not to assume that your comrades are doing okay. Engage them, check in on them and open up to them. Even if everything appears normal, many first responders and military veterans are exceptionally good at suppressing their emotions.
An emotional injury can cause just as much trauma as a gunshot wound. It is well past time to throw out the machismo and recognize that human beings cannot be exposed to mental trauma without some form of decompression.
Blue H.E.L.P. is fighting to make sure that ways for police officers to decompress are in place. They also seek to honor the service of those officers who were not reached in time.
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This event is also a great way to let the families of police officers know that they are not alone. The hundreds of family members in attendance at this event show that even when they are faced with the tragic suicide of someone they loved, there are others to lean on who are experiencing the same pain. With their support, there is strength.
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These words from Blue H.E.L.P. sum up its mission perfectly:
- “We believe that officers who suffer emotional injuries should be recognized and their service to the community honored.
- “We believe it’s time to put names and faces to the men and women who have died because their emotional injuries became too much to bear.
- “We believe it’s time to support the families who have lost loved ones to those injuries.
- “We believe in the saying, ‘It is not how they died that mattered, it is how they lived.’”
Whether you are a military veteran, active duty servicemember, or first responder, make it a point to check on your buddy today, even if there are no outward signs of trauma. A friendly voice may just save a life.
These men and women are the best of our society. It’s time we protect the protectors.
Find out more about Blue H.E.L.P. resources and training programs, and don’t be afraid to elevate this conversation on social media.
About the Author: Wes O’Donnell is the managing editor of In Military, an online publication that features information, tips, resources, and advice for military-affiliated individuals including active-duty service members, veterans, and civilians supporting military efforts. He is an a veteran of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, serving eight years on active duty. He has a MBA focused on IT management and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from American Military University. Wes is the director of the short film “Memorial Day” which earned Best Drama at the Oregon Cinema Arts Festival and Special Mention at the One Reeler Short Film Competition in Los Angeles. To contact the author, please email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.