Boston MA January 5 2020
A Massachusetts-based nonprofit that tracks police suicides says at least 228 officers died by suicide in 2019, the highest number the organization has reported yet.
The 2019 number is again higher than all other line-of-duty deaths combined, a release from Blue H.E.L.P. says.
Because the organization compiles reports of suicide deaths among current and retired officers to arrive at its number, the true total is likely higher. That also means this year’s increase may simply indicate more people are reporting officers’ suicide deaths.
“While it’s disheartening to see these numbers rise, we can’t be sure that suicides are on the rise or if they are being reported more accurately,” a release quotes Karen Solomon, co-founder of Blue H.E.L.P.
The organization, which allows individuals and agencies to report officers’ suicide deaths on its website, says this is the fourth year it has collected data.
Currently, the organization’s website reports 172 officer deaths due to suicide in 2018, 168 in 2017 and 143 in 2016. As of Thursday night, the organization has reported one officer died due to suicide in 2020.
Citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page Inc., Solomon told USA TODAY in an email that 132 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019, data that includes deaths due to 9/11 illness and heart attacks.
Blue H.E.L.P.’s count of officer suicides in 2019 will continue to grow as new reports are made, Solomon wrote.
Blue H.E.L.P. hopes to help lower the number of officer deaths due to suicide with advocacy work, including increasing the availability of mental health resources for officers across the country.
Talking about mental health within the law enforcement community was taboo for many years, but that culture is slowly changing, Jeff McGill – the organization’s co-founder – has previously said.
More clinicians who understand law enforcement culture are needed, and departments should boost support systems, both within their department and within officers’ families, for employees who respond to shootings, car wrecks and deaths over the length of their career, McGill said.
“It builds up over time, and while it might not affect you right now, these psychological injuries that come along with a law enforcement career are likely to cause problems within your personal or professional life,” he said. “We have to be more proactive. We have to.”
This summer, three New York City police officers died by suicide in 10 days, prompting NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to encourage fellow officers to not be afraid to seek help.
“This is a mental-health crisis,” O’Neill tweeted. “And we – the NYPD and the law enforcement profession as a whole – absolutely must take action. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“Accepting help is never a sign of weakness,” he added. “In fact, it’s a sign of great strength.”
“Success stories need to be told – they exist, and they can help police officers, agencies, and organizations continue to change the culture in law enforcement in positive ways,” the release quotes Blue H.E.L.P. public relations adviser Doug Wyllie.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.