First responders that die by suicide are generally high performing members of their organization. They are often prime examples of what the employer expects on a daily basis. They care extremely about their career and often put their life on hold to finish the job. Sometimes too much.
But what about suicide ideation? Surely only members who have been lost to suicide have been lost in the abyss. Suicide ideation can’t affect you otherwise. Can it?
To share those thoughts would possibly mean your career is in jeopardy. That your family and loved ones possibly would consider you ‘crazy’. That in fact, there is something really wrong with you – just like the people you serve to help everyday out in the public that are dealing with mental health concerns. You are a highly trained first responder who may have recently taken a mental health course, been to a conference or completed the R2MR training. You couldn’t possibly have any mental health concerns.
If you are human, work as a first responder, and been exposed to single or multiple traumatic events, then yes – you can be influenced by suicide ideation.
Lets take a quick review of 7 words that can lead towards change in perception about S.U.I.C.I.D.E. within the first responder world:
S – Self-Stigma – Education and training are increasing awareness of Operational Stress Injuries, PTSD, depression, anxiety and suicide ideation in the First Responder world. Unfortunately, because we are imperfect humans, stigma continues to live within organizations, our colleagues, ourselves and the general public. We often do more harm to our mind, body and spirit carrying the burden of shame, guilt and remorse than any external forces could ever impact us. We allow our mind to control our body and spirit with false messaging. Question our worthiness and critique what might have been a split second decision after a period of time being removed from the incident with the same arm-chair quarterback mindset that we often complain about demonstrated by others in the media and social media. In essence, our mind can often be our worst enemy.
U – Underreported – Many First Responder suicides go unreported. Realistically, even more First Responders are affected by suicide ideation but go underreported as well. Fortunately, not everyone dies from suicide. Unfortunately, even more will be faced with suicide ideation. However, there are many suicide ideation success stories involving positive post traumatic growth that for the most part go under-reported far too often as well.
But, even one suicide can be too many for any organization, the colleagues and family to deal with. Suicide success plants seeds and germinates in the brain. Often causing those same thoughts to ruminate in some surviving family and colleagues who have been lost to suicide to start thinking the same way.
Organizations must do a better job of keeping statistical data that can be shared through research to assist in possibly identifying similar fact details of those who might be at risk based upon their years of service, exposure to trauma, job descriptors etc. We must acknowledge how a member lived rather than how they died. Unfortunately, without capturing proper statistics, we are doing a disservice to those who have been lost, as well as those who are dealing with ideation. Proper statistics allows for effective research analysis that can assist others down the road. Burying such statistics and information is only harmful to the health of the member and the organization moving forward. Death by suicide means that we fail to listen to the reasons that could potentially save another life.
I – Isolation – Many members dealing with suicide ideation have isolated themselves from friends and family. Generally, members have set their emotions on autopilot and can only feel emotional numbness. Often times the member has pushed loved ones too far away. Have eliminated activities within their community, such as volunteering and serving others in a different capacity than as a first responder. When your own crisis knocks at the door you often open to find no one else standing on the threshold but yourself.
We must do a better job organizationally, as colleagues and family with empathy, compassion and understanding. Just because someone has had suicide ideation – doesn’t mean it will always be a life long factor. Treatment, education, identifying coping skills and available resources can allow for understanding, acceptance, and positive growth. Any member can become an effective employee within the organization if given the resources to recover and flourish.
C – Community – Where is our Tribe in moments of crisis that can lead to suicide ideation?
Unfortunately, we become experts at isolation. Isolation From our family, friends and co-workers. When thoughts of suicide ideation creep into our consciousness the filter system in our brain concludes it is a reasonable decision. The brain justifies such a decision to eliminate the pain & suffering one is experiencing. In addition, the brain can convince us that everyone else would be better served if we simply were ‘out of the picture’ so to speak.
Engage in your passions. Find out what your interests are outside of your career. Be active with friends and family. Build your Tribe.
I – Ideation – Suicide ideation is a bigger topic than many first responders wish to acknowledge. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you are “crazy”. It only can feel that way with the tricks our brain plays upon our perceptions. Overwhelmed with various complexities such as OSI, PTSD, depression, moral injury, sanctuary trauma and perceived injustice to name a few. All can play a role in suicide ideation. However, any such diagnosis doesn’t have to be a ‘death sentence’. It just means you are human. Imperfect like everyone else. Literally, putting your pants on – ‘one leg at a time’. But still only an imperfect human like anyone else.
D – Depression – It is not always about PTSD when members are lost to suicide. Along with moral injury and sanctuary trauma, depression plays a major role in suicide ideation amongst first responders. Some members who have been lost to suicide have been dealing with depression but possibly did not meet the criteria or threshold for a PTSD diagnosis. Unfortunately, suicide and suicide ideation do not discriminate when it comes to our mental health.
E – Everyone – Everyone can be influenced by suicide ideation or suicide. No one is immune. To think otherwise only sets oneself up for potential failure. However, it doesn’t mean you are defective. Only human once again. A cookie cutter treatment approach can be detrimental to many individuals leaving them lost in the abyss for extended periods. Many can feel that they are ‘failing the program’ if options are narrowly focused.
There are many evidence based therapies, resources, strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with suicide ideation. Our BOLC website resources and therapist listings offer a variety of such information and resources.
Please check out our list of Canada-wide crisis resources and therapist listings.
Feel you require some assistance and are ready to cross the threshold towards positive growth?
Please check out our dedicated Programs for First Responders.
If this story resonates postively with you in some way, you are not alone and definitely not the only first responder who has ever had thoughts of suicide ideation. Remember, it is never too late to get the assistance that you require. The life you save may very well be your own. Trust me, I know.
Blessings & gratitude.
About the Author: Bill Rusk, B.A., (Sgt. retired) is a retired 30-year policing veteran who has been involved in numerous serious traumatic events throughout his career with two separate police agencies. Bill has the dubious Canadian distinction of being the only modern day police officer, shot in the line of duty, where no suspect has ever been identified or charged. Bill has received numerous acknowledgements and recognition during a distinguished career. Bill has been heavily involved in police association work having served two-terms as a Director for the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) and the Ontario Police Memorial Foundation (OPMF). Bill is now the volunteer executive director for Badge of Life Canada.