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Suicidal Cops Often Reluctant to Seek Help

State suicide prevention report puts police in a high-risk category for suicide. More officers commit suicide every year than are killed in the line of duty.

 

The apparent suicide of Bethlehem Police Officer over the weekend is a reminder that the stress cops live with daily can too often lead to similar tragedies.

At the same time, police officers are too often reluctant to get help because of the stigma attached to needing it, according to a 2006 official state report on suicide prevention, which identified law enforcement officers as having a higher than normal risk of suicide.

Rossnagle’s is the second high-profile suicide in the Lehigh Valley in the past three months.

Political activist and businessman Charles Snelling after killing his wife, Adrienne, who had been suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. Family members said he could no longer bear to watch his wife suffer.

The Centers for Disease Control says suicide is the tenth leading killer in the United States and had reached a 15-year high in 2009, the last year for which statistics were available. Suicide rates in this country were steadily increasing from 2000 through the end of the decade.

The Pennsylvania suicde prevention report says police officers are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than everyone else and that more cops – an estimated 300 every year – die by their own hand than by homicide, though they acknowledge that “data is often hard to obtain.”

The report, prepared by the state departments of Health, Public Welfare and Aging recommended suicide-prevention training at the academy level, peer support groups and to encourage help-seeking behavior.

“The truth is, more police officers die from suicide than from line-of-duty deaths,” according to the Website, tearsofacop.com, an online resource for stressed out officers and law enforcement suicide survivors. “The unseen wounds of job-related stress usually develop slowly over the course of an officer's career.”

The Website draws a direct link from post-traumatic stress disorder, an occupational hazard for police, to suicide. It offers the following behavioral symptoms of PTSD:

  • Withdrawal
  • Pacing & Restlessness
  • Emotional Outbursts
  • Anti-Social Acts
  • Suspicion and Paranoia
  • Inability to Rest
  • Loss of Interest in Hobbies
  • Increased Alcohol Consumption
  • Other Substance Abuse

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers the following warning signs of someone who may be about to make a suicide attempt:

  • Observable signs of serious depression:
    Unrelenting low mood
    Pessimism
    Hopelessness
    Desperation
    Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
    Withdrawal
    Sleep problems
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Making a plan:
    Giving away prized possessions
    Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm
    Obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications
  • Unexpected rage or anger

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, there are places to go for help. Both Lehigh and Northampton counties offer 24-hour crisis hotlines and there are national toll-free suicide prevention hotlines.

  • Northampton County Crisis Intervention Service, 610-252-9060 or, for the hearing impaired, 610-997-5480.
  • Lehigh County Emergency Mental Health Services, 610-782-3127
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
  • The National Hopeline Network, 1-800-SUICIDE, (784-2433)

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