A message to those in despair
By Don Milazzo
September was National Suicide Prevention Month, and dedicated people across the country were participating in Out of the Darkness walks to raise awareness of suicide.
At the same time, several law enforcement departments were burying officers who took their own lives.
As those departments and their members say goodbye to their friends and co-workers, it is difficult to witness how helpless they feel to have been unable to prevent it.
This is an open letter to the officer who is, right now, considering suicide. Please take a moment and read the whole thing:
I don’t know where you are on the continuum. You may be only having brief thoughts about killing yourself. You may be in a position where you are considering suicide as an option. You may have already decided that suicide is the only way out.
The statistics will state that you are a white male, between the ages of 35 and 44, and have 15 to 19 years on the job. You may have some legal problems. You most likely have relationship issues and it is probable that you are drinking more than usual.
Statistics can only tell us what is “most likely;” so if you are an officer who doesn’t fit into the previous description but are still having thoughts about killing yourself, this letter is also for you.
The pain you are experiencing – whether it be physical, emotional or psychological – is overwhelming you and you want it to stop. You deal daily with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, feeling like you are not in control, and that is one of the hardest things for an officer to accept. You’ve started to pull away from the people who care about you and have lost interest in the things that you once enjoyed. You don’t want anyone to know what is going on because you believe that somehow that would bring you shame. Every day is a struggle and the thoughts that run through your head constantly make you anxious and/or depressed. You may be experiencing panic attacks that seem like they are getting worse. You may dread going to work because you might have one there and people would notice. Maybe you are sleeping more and are having a hard time even getting up to go to work. If you are missing days from work and facing disciplinary action, this compounds the stress that you are already dealing with.
The biggest mistake that you can make is thinking that you have to go through this alone. If you look around you, any one of your fellow officers will help you. The funny thing about law enforcement is that officers will trust each other in situations which are life and death but hesitate to reach out to each other when they need help themselves.
If you are thinking about suicide, it is life and death.
Officers say that they are afraid to seek professional help because they don’t want the department to find out or take a chance on losing their weapon. Talking to a professional does not void your ability to carry a firearm, and can be a safe, confidential way to work on the issues that are affecting your life.
I have attended too many funerals for officers who decided to kill themselves, and I have held the hands of their co-workers, friends and especially family as they ask the question, “Why didn’t they tell me? Why couldn’t they talk to me?” The damage inflicted on those left behind is enormous.
Please reach out to someone; a friend, a co-worker, your EAP, peer support, a family member, your doctor, a therapist, anyone. Let someone know what you are going through. Allow someone else to help you. You can call 800-273-TALK or any of the other hotlines dedicated to law enforcement officers and talk to someone there.
The bottom line is that before you take the final step toward suicide, please try taking a step toward help.