By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski Faculty Member, Criminal Justice for America Military University EDGE Faculty
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it is important to focus our attention on the risk of suicide for police officers. Police stress accumulates over time and if it is not properly managed, that stress will cause physical and mental problems. For instance, many police officers suffer from cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, prolonged exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol, obesity, alcoholism, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The most devastating consequence of unmitigated stress for police officers is suicide. Often, a suicide may occur due to an important loss. The loss may include spousal separation or divorce, financial problems, job-related health problems or a loss of support from their workplace.
Several Factors Can Lead to Police Officer Suicides
Chronic exposure to traumatic events such as deaths or violent crime scenes can cause an officer to have suicidal thoughts. Similarly, self-blame over mistakes made in the field that led to the death of a fellow officer or citizens may also cause an officer to contemplate suicide.
Undiagnosed or unaddressed mental health problems are additional factors that contribute to police suicides. These problems are exacerbated by the stigma that exists in law enforcement over seeking mental health services. Police officers commonly fear that what they tell a counselor about a mental health problem could have a permanent impact on their careers.
In addition, there is the stress of the coronavirus pandemic and the law enforcement perception that the public does not support their work. Those factors can also have an adverse impact on an officer’s mental health.