Mental health: The overlooked aspect of law enforcement discussions

44 law enforcement officers have been lost due to suicide in 2021
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 9:32 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — During a time when their profession is more scrutinized than ever, one aspect of what is a complex discussion seemingly flying under the radar is mental health, especially in terms of the suicide rate among police officers.

According to law enforcement suicide data collector Blue H.E.L.P., 44 law enforcement officers have been lost due to suicide in 2021 alone. Per their data, suicide is the leading cause of death among police officers.

On average, the officers who took their own lives had served in law enforcement for over 15 years. Over 13% of those lost as a result of suicide were also military veterans.

Blue H.E.L.P Founder Jeff McGill believes additional scrutiny on their performance adds to their stressors.

“The extra second-guessing that’s occurring creates a new level of stress,” said McGill.

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue spoke to the stigma surrounding mental health in the law enforcement community, to which he can relate.

“I’ve seen some terrible things that I still deal with. I can freely admit that,” said Donahue. “It’s in my head, yet guys my age or my category, we didn’t go [get help]. Part of it was the stigma that you look weak.”

Donahue believes the mind is just as important as the body when it comes to officer wellness.

“We all go to the doctor for ailments to our body, but we don’t go to the doctor for things that are in our head,” Donahue said. “I think that’s a real downfall to this profession.”

Balancing life in law enforcement in addition to typical real-life stressors can be tough on some officers, as well.

“We will keep you safe and put our lives on the line,” Donahue added. “But at the end of the shift, they’re expected to shut that off and go to their life at home, the church, or their kid’s functions. I can tell you from experience, it’s really difficult.”

Some members of the law enforcement community are asking for empathy from the public.

“I think sometimes the public doesn’t realize these [officers] are human beings too,” Donahue said. “These are your brothers, your sisters, your aunts and uncles. This could be your next-door neighbor.”

McGill is also asking for further progress in light of new scientific breakthroughs.

“We can show physical changes in the brain. We can show that stress will affect the officer’s abilities to respond and deal with things and it may affect their ability to function in society,” he said. “Agencies need to do better. States need to do better. The Federal Government needs to do better.”

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