NYC police deaths open suicide conversation

Those living with mental illness often have a difficult time dealing with the world. Their minds may not be well, and they can’t always reason or use logic to make sense of that which is admittedly a topsy-turvy world. It can be a painful existence. In extreme cases of mental illness, sufferers might hurt themselves or hurt others.

There is no easy solution. To prevent harm, or self-harm, one tactic is to remove dangerous items from those living with a mental health condition. No guns, no knives, no ropes. Keeping those mostly common items out of the hands of the mentally unwell can be critical to keeping people safe. But sometimes, people have easy access to weapons and other dangerous items. 

Cops. Cops have guns. There are no two ways about it. And so, when we look at the recent spate of suicides that have hit the New York City Police Department, we cannot help but worry about other cops who are dealing with the same pressures and have the same weapons at hand.

So far this year, nine NYC police officers have died by their own hand; there were two suicides alone just last week. According to the New York Times, “more police officers commit suicide every year than are killed in the line of duty.” Since 2014, an average of five NYC officers have killed themselves each year. It’s a serious issue that could plague any police department, here in the U.S. or around the world — after all, the job is emotionally exhausting and physically demanding — and it’s forcing the nation’s largest police force to deal with suicide head on.

Make no mistake, this is a mental health emergency — and it is, hopefully, encouraging all people to reassess their mental wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. The reason that’s so important is because there is help out there. There are organizations, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which offer support and programming. Its website, www.nami.org, is a great resource, as is its helpline, 800-950-6263. There’s also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-TALK (8255) or at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. And then, of course, there’s always 911.

If calling a helpline seems like too big a step, go online, do research, talk to a doctor or to a friend. There are some warning signs to watch for in people considering suicide, including talk of self harm or wanting to die; talk of feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talk of being in extreme pain or of feeling stuck; talk of being a burden to others; using drugs or alcohol; acting anxious, agitated or recklessly; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; being rage-filled or talking about getting revenge; displaying extreme mood swings. These are all warning signs, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which cautions that “the more signs a person shows, the greater the risk.” It adds that “warning signs are associated with suicide, but may not be what causes a suicide.”

If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, do not leave that person alone. Remove all weapons, sharp objects, alcohol and drugs. Help get that person the support provided by any of the organizations listed above. In emergency situations, call 911. And most of all, don’t avoid addressing the issue in the safest, healthiest way you know how. If you are able to help someone who is suicidal (or yourself), the next step is getting a diagnosis, and after that, treatment. There are ways to deal with the ominous threat of suicide; there is help and there is hope.