When you think of suicide you don’t think of first responders but it happens more often than you think. Believe it or not first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in line of duty and it’s beginning to reach crisis levels.
“We are presented to people to be these big and strong people that are out there every day keeping everybody safe, but it takes a toll on us,” said John Brocker, Support Services Sergeant at Bismarck Police Department.
That toll comes in the form of mental illness including depression and PTSD, after being exposed to death and destruction. But there is also a stigma associated with mental health.
“That you get labeled, that you are weak, that you are incapable of taking care of yourself,” said Brocker.
Which is why officers have access to police chaplains.
“We are there to mitigate the officer’s stress, help them deal with emotions, help them deal with spiritual questions and make their jobs a little bit easier,” said Greg Carr, a Bismarck Chaplain.
Police Chaplains are ordained pastors and deacons that build relationships with officers, especially since suicide outnumbered line duty deaths for the past three years.
According to Blue Help, an organization that tracks suicides in law enforcement, 167 officers died by suicide across the country in 2018. Two officers in North Dakota committed suicide. California and Texas had the highest number of officer suicides, and at least 12 happened on duty with their own guns.
“Having to go and tell a family that a member of their family has died by suicide is one of the worst things we have to do as chaplains,” said Carr.
Even when suicide does not occur, untreated mental illness can lead to poor physical health and impaired decision-making.
If someone you know has talked about contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.