February 6, 2024

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Talking About First Responder Suicide

Gordon Graham
Category: Public Safety

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for everyone in public safety, and it has to do with talking about suicide.

When we do talk about suicide, we must be responsible.

You probably already know that more first responders die by suicide than in the line of duty. And yet, so many of us remain reluctant to talk about this problem.

Why is that? We worry that bringing it up might increase someone’s risk of self-harm. And we fear we won’t know what to say if someone says, “Yes, I am having suicidal thoughts.”

Let me put your fears to rest. Talking about suicide does NOT increase the risk for suicide. Data indicates this is absolutely not true. In fact, asking someone directly if they have suicidal thoughts can help them open up – when they might have otherwise avoided saying anything.

And you don’t need to know exactly what to say. You just need to be willing to get them connected to someone who will know what to do.

When we do talk about suicide, we must be responsible. We want to normalize having these thoughts, because they are common among first responders. But we do not want to normalize the act itself, because following through with suicide is not common.

Unfortunately, one or more suicides, particularly when we are talking about people who are respected or influential, can act as a tipping point for others. That’s why we sometimes see a wave of suicide within an agency or geographic region. To prevent this, we need to avoid sensational stories that discuss details or frame suicide as a heroic act.

It’s also critical that we make it easy for those thinking about or talking about suicide to access resources to mitigate the risk. Researchers at Harvard University have documented that suicidal thinking tends to elevate in intensity for brief durations – sometimes as short as a couple of hours. During these times, having access to 24/7, confidential support is essential.

Put simply: The motive to die by suicide is almost always very temporary in nature. If we can intervene in those moments, we can save lives.

Please, don’t be afraid to talk about suicide and directly ask about it if you see your brothers or sisters struggling. Our efforts to help are worthwhile, and particularly important during the moments of greatest risk.

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

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