Fifteen Is Enough!
A few years back, Brent and I were getting ready for bed at the end of the day when he checked his Blackberry one last time. Another suicide. It was number fifteen for our department in a period of four years. I cried out, “Another one?! What are we doing?!” I didn’t know it at the time, but it was quite a prophetic question. I was referring to the department—how will they respond? But actually the more I asked the question, I realized that I might be able to do something as well.
I don’t know what it was about the number fifteen, but it seemed like everyone jumped into action. Number fifteen pushed the panic button, and we awoke. The department began talking about suicide openly. Our officers’ association published a double-page ad in their monthly newsletter: “Call for Backup,” with a picture of a glass of alcohol and a gun. We implemented awareness seminars across the state and set up debriefing sessions with those who knew the suicide victims. We educated ourselves. We decided as a department to hit suicide head on, deal with it as the reality it was, not a deniable secret hovering in the shadows.
In my own research, I learned that almost always the one who commits suicide just ended a significant relationship. When a life is going sideways, others are affected in a big way. Helplessness, blame, an inability to get a handle on problems, and depression (among other things) will push away those who are close. When things are falling apart, and hope seems to have been lost, the natural tendency is to get out quickly. The boat is sinking, and our survival instincts say, “Abandon ship!” Sometimes this is one more reason for those contemplating suicide.
This book is part of my own action against suicide. I care about the mental and emotional health of my husband and those he works alongside. If by sharing my own struggles I can encourage other wives to hang tough through the hard stuff, maybe suicide won’t be such an attractive option to their officers. If educating law enforcement spouses about these realities equips them to deal positively with the negatives, then perhaps marriages will be saved. If our officers know they have backup at home, perhaps they will be more courageous to get the help they need.
Symptoms of Suicide
So how can we discern if our spouse is contemplating suicide? By watching and listening for the symptoms. Sometimes there are signs of PTSD, whether from one specific incident, or a collection of events over time. If they don’t deal with the trauma, they risk depression, which can be a precursor to suicide. If your officer is having trouble reconciling these thoughts, he may be at risk. According to several articles on police suicide, a typical profile of a suicide candidate is a white male, 35 years of age, separated or divorced, using alcohol or drugs, and having recently experienced a loss or disappointment. They may have made out a recent will, bought a weapon, or appear to be getting their affairs in order. There is generally a significant mood change—either better or worse. They may exhibit signs of anxiety, frustration, or confusion.
I once heard suicide referred to as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But in the midst of it, the problem seems permanent. Sometimes it takes another level head to discern what is going on in the big picture. This is where you come in. Learn to recognize the symptoms. If your officer seems like he’s at risk, don’t abandon him or ignore the symptoms. Fight for him! Find help immediately.