The series of current misfortunes has impelled every level of police leadership to talk about the desire of cops to seek after their mental health as well as that of their colleagues. Professionals argue that the present crisis on the police is being triggered by a mix of old and new problems. Among the newer ones is that police morale is particularly low right, with the force under harsh examination over such scandals like Eric Garner’s death in 2014, who died when Officer Pantaleo Daniel restrained him in the forbidden chokehold. These newer efforts are worsened by the enduring difficulty on the police force; officers fear that speaking up regarding a mental health factor will place their job on the line believing that “it is a weakness to disclose a weakness.”
Since the start of the year 2019, nine officers from the New York Police Department (NYPD) have committed suicide, seven of them since the beginning of June. Two officers took their own lives in merely a two-day span. The number has continuously increased considering the previous years where an approximate of four to five officers could be reported to have committed suicide annually. Experts are working harder to discover the causes of these suicides. These include high stress and traumatic encounters in the line of duty. The reports by the experts reveal that officers encounter seeing dead children, mass murders and human misery in all the ways they turn. Being in such situations daily lowers their psyche of working as officers. Instead of living a life featured by stress and trauma, they assume that taking their life would work out best. Additionally, the family hood among the police officers is another factor causing the increased number of suicides. If one commits it, others are motivated to follow the same footsteps because as a family they should be characterized by the same thing. The increased constant threats of drug tests on the officers also challenge them. In case of issues prompting to medications, the officers fear that the tests will jeopardize their careers even if they were legally allowed to take medicines. The freedom not to access therapeutic services has led to the increased suicide cases with the NYPD. Generally, the stress in life, police work and continued access to guns make it easy for officers to act on suicidal impulse.
The top cause of officer suicides today is the fear among the policemen to speak about a mental health issue. NYPD officers fear to address certain things they have seen bothering them. They say, “It is a weakness to expose a weakness.” Officers have over time heard horror stories of their colleagues being deemed mentally unfit for duty and demoted as well as their guns are taken away after speaking about their mental state. Such shameful deeds as officers refer to them curtail them from seeking psychological help thus replacing this with suicidal thoughts. They do not want to suffer more depression at the psychological centers. Once one says he is depressed and needs modification, the only action is taking the gun away. The commissioner, Mr. O’Neil, has tried to encourage officers to seek for help as much as they can. Previously, police officers who sought for help due to their emotional vulnerability have been demoted. Also, after seeking counseling, the rapport with other officers is affected. The stigma as a result of all these influences appearing suicidal thoughts.
Commissioner O’Neil is not happy with the actions of those officers taking their lives in New York and across the US. He is working towards encouraging officers to seek for help as he has declared a mental health crisis in the NYPD. He says that there is no embarrassment in seeking for assistance from the several resources accessible both inside as well as outside the NYPD. To him, “accepting help is never a sign of weakness, but a great strength.” Mr. O’Neil says that police officers have more options for getting confidential help. They can seek help from the department chaplains as well as peer support groups by phone calls or text message hotlines. He is working towards reducing the suicide cases. For instance, he has appointed a mental health and wellness coordinator to promote healthy habits among officers. The coordinator has the role of educating officers on the need for regular exercise, healthy food and good sleep as well as socializing with friends and family members. The commissioner has planned to expand the insurance coverage for the officers to connect with mental health experts at their preference. O’Neil believes that both the Blue H.E.L.P and POPPA programs can facilitate counseling which is needed among the police officers, families and friends to alleviate issues leading to suicide.
Blue H.E.L.P which stands for “Honor, Educate, Lead, Prevent” is a non-profit independent organization founded by Karen Solomon. It collects data on police and corrections officers as well as tallies deaths of police as a result of suicides. The mission of Blue H.E.L.P. is reducing stigma of mental health through educating and advocating for benefits of those facing post-traumatic stress as well as acknowledging the service as well as sacrifice of cops lost through suicide. The organization works at assisting officers to search for healing and creates awareness to mental issues and suicide. On the other hand, POPPA is an acronym standing for Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance. It is a group of volunteers, either on the job or retired, trying to help officers in turmoil. The organization aims at reaching out to many people who suffer from emotional injuries as a result of the death of their loved ones. The volunteers deploy to each command affected by the suicide of an officer. Their mission is to provide comfort to the affected families and friends as well as training others on how to spot the warning signs. The organization is built on the belief that time has come to offer emotional support to the families and friends that have lost their loved ones to suicide.
In conclusion, the NYPD is taking the current spate of suicides seriously. The department is implementing new measures to address the crisis, comprising a modern mental health services application for policemen’s department-issued mobile phones. It is as well working on increasing coverage of health insurance to enable them to connect with mental health professional off the clock, when they prefer. Certain officers fear that utilizing department resources to talk about their mental health struggles might adversely impact their career. Commissioner James O’Neill appeals with his co-workers to seek for assistance for any mental health problem that they might be facing.