January 9, 2024

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Reducing Suicides in Public Safety

 
Gordon Graham
Category: Public Safety

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol.

In my live lectures I ask, “How many of you know a cop or firefighter who died by suicide?” More than half the group puts their hands up. 

Folks, permit me to get serious here. I have been troubled about suicides in public safety since one night in 1975. I was at my locker chatting with another cop. I went home, he went home. And when I got back to work the next day, I learned he had killed himself. For years after, I asked myself, “What did I miss in that conversation?” And to this day I have not figured that out. 

Fast-forward to today. In my live lectures I ask, “How many of you know a cop or firefighter who died by suicide?” More than half the group puts their hands up.

For five decades I have tried to identify risks and then build control measures to address them. When it comes to suicide, I am not the subject matter expert. But the nice thing about being old is that while I do not know everything – I do know everybody. 

So I consulted with five SMEs on how we can reduce the number of suicides in public safety. I’ll have much more to come from them in future Tips, but here are a few initial thoughts.

First, suicidal thinking among public safety professionals is not rare. And therefore, it is very important to acknowledge it, to discuss it, and to problem solve around it. Not with an extreme response, but with compassion, understanding, and a total lack of stigma.

Second, for you leaders out there: It’s imperative that valuing mental health is not just lip service. You can’t be focused on short-term financial impacts such as sick time. And your “open-door policy” needs to be real.

One final thought for today. The motive to die by suicide is almost always very temporary in nature. And the most common characteristic among people who survive suicide attempts is relief that the attempt was unsuccessful. 

Folks, we have lost too many members to suicide. But the power to change that is in our hands. Please keep an eye out for additional Tips on this important topic.  

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.  

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