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3 Things You Need to Know If You Hear About the Recent NYPD Officer Suicides

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Renée Fabian, The Mighty’s features editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

If you’ve seen the news recently, you may have heard reports about a number of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers dying by suicide in the month of June. Many media outlets used language that may sound alarmist and scary when talking about the officers who died, which can be hard to read. It’s important to talk about how to support first responders like police officers, firefighters and paramedics, and we wanted to do that here but in a safe way that acknowledges talking about suicide is hard. Really hard.

Before we go any further, reading about suicide can be very triggering if you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Please take care of yourself and know it’s OK to skip reading this article — or any articles you see about suicide — if it’s better for you. If you need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

With that in mind, here are three things to know following the recent suicides in New York:

1. Suicide Contagion Is Real

One of the reasons it’s important to address mental health in the wake of many reports of suicide is because of a risk of contagion. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, exposure to suicide directly (like a community member dying) or indirectly (like reading about it on the news) can increase suicide behaviors or suicide.

To minimize the potential for contagion, there are a number of steps you can take. If you or someone you love are struggling, reach out for help. This could mean contacting your loved ones, finding a peer group in your community like a 12-step meeting or finding a mental health professional for support. NAMI’s helpline can connect you with local treatment resources and options in your area.

You can also help prevent suicide contagion by turning off or tuning out upsetting news when possible and reminding others help is available. We can also be careful about the articles and information we share about suicide online. Media guidelines for reporting responsibly on suicide indicate sharing the method of suicide or sensationalizing and “investigating” a suicide in an article can be harmful. The best information to share after reports of a death by suicide are messages of connection, support and hope.

2. First Responders and Suicide Risk

First responders, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency personnel have a higher risk of struggling with their mental health because of what they’re exposed to at work. According to a Ruderman Family Foundation white paper on first responders and suicide, emergency workers experience more than 180 “critical” and potentially traumatic “incidents” during their career.

The same white paper found firefighters and police officers are as much as five times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression compared to the general public. Research by first responder mental health advocacy organizations Blue H.E.L.P. and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA) found more police officers and firefighters die by suicide each year than in the line of duty. The majority of first responders who die by suicide are male, which is also one of the highest-risk groups regardless of career type.

These statistics underscore the importance of making sure first responders have access to mental health resources, and we destigmatize reaching out for help. According to Jeff Dill, a retired firefighter captain, licensed counselor and founder of FBHA, the 800 first responders FBHA surveyed were most likely to show signs of recklessness, anger, withdrawal and isolation, less competence in skills and abilities, and sleep deprivation before attempting suicide. If you’re concerned about a loved one, Dill said to directly ask about suicidal thoughts.

“Talk to them about it,” Dill told The Mighty in the article, “Suicide Rates Are Growing Among Firefighters.” “There are two questions you should ask right away, ‘Do you feel like killing yourself?’ and ‘Do you have a plan?’”

3. What You Can Do If You of Someone You Love Needs Help

In response to the cluster of recent officer suicides, NYPD and New York state officials are working to put additional mental health resources in place for its officers. NYPD commissioner James O’Neill reiterated the importance of supporting first responders.

“Cops have extremely difficult jobs & we need to make sure we’re doing our best to protect every member of the NYPD,” O’Neill tweeted. “We’re looking at all the ways we can get support & treatment to our people, including peer-to-peer counseling in every station house.”

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Here are mental health resources you can reach out to, whether you’re a first responder or anybody who may need extra help right now:

If you need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

To connect with a community that cares, head to our #CheckInWithMe page. There you can read stories and post a Mighty Thought or Question to give and get support.

Header image via NYPD’s Facebook page

Originally published: July 2, 2019
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