By Dr. Olivia Johnson
The mere word makes many uncomfortable. It leaves many speechless. It leaves many sharing mere condolences, because words alone cannot alleviate the heavy cloud of unbearable pain. However, being uncomfortable and remaining quiet will not stop this threat. In fact, silence actually allows this threat to grow. Discussing suicide keeps us uncomfortable and acknowledging the “why” keeps us silent. In the silence there is pain, shame, blame, guilt, and fear, all of which keep the silence strong.
How can a spouse explain that she fought for her marriage for years. How can she explain to you that she loved her husband but the years of alcohol abuse, constant fighting, and other issues had fractured their marriage. She loved him, but she is no longer in love with him. Of course, she is not sharing this on social media, so the pending divorce comes as a shock to many. What you knew about this officer, man, husband, and father is not quite the same person that she seemingly lived with for the past nine years. What happened behind closed doors was only know to those residing there.
Or what about the officer under investigation, being accused of criminal activity. The officer you thought you knew was a lie. The family often left blindsided and betrayed. This unbelievable betrayal keeps many quiet and definitely uncomfortable. The family is often rejected unknowingly because discussing this painful truth changes everything they knew and believed to be true about their loved one. It solidifies in time a new truth that must now be accepted.
All too often we have been told that suicide is the result of PTSD and the job. Though stress and trauma may be a component, it is not the entire story, and it is not one thing that contributes to a death by suicide. If we want to stop this silent threat, then we must begin to understand these cases on a deeper level. This is where it gets ugly, painful, and downright unbearable. Having to come to terms with a marriage that was not happy or healthy may be the reality. Or having to face addiction issues, mental health concerns, financial strain, infidelity, all of which are a part of life but paint no one in a good light.
Here’s the reality: Suicide is and has been a leading threat to those in uniform for decades, and the contributing reasons are not overly profound. At our core we are human, in-turn, we have human problems. Though the tide is turning, this threat still lacks the appropriate level of attention necessary to reduce the loss of life in a substantial way. I believe this is due in large part to the fact that we do not want to be uncomfortable and we fear what lurks in the silence. It is much easier to just say it is the result of the job. Talking about the job as a major issue is not uncomfortable, and this is completely understandable. However, what is uncomfortable is talking about our personal lives and our struggles. This is where we feel judged. This is why we remain silent.
The answers and solutions lie in the uncomfortable.
We must do more with these cases than merely count them. We know there is a problem. The families, agencies, and officers deserved more. If we want numbers to be reduced, something different must happen. We need to look at every single case in-depth and understand it individually and collectively. The standard that was accepted of just counting these cases does nothing to stop this threat. From this, the National Law Enforcement Suicide Mortality Database™ (LE-SMD) was developed.
The LE-SMD is the only database in the world that collects extensive data on law enforcement and correctional officer suicide, murder-suicide, non-fatal attempts, and cases of accidental overdose deaths. Every case undergoes a stringent verification process to include the use of at least one of the following: police reports, autopsy and toxicology records, agency press releases, media accounts, next of kin notification.
The LE-SMD is a one-of-a-kind database that looks at 122 data points and serves as a confidential repository for cases involving current, sworn, retired, and former officers. Cases are included as far back as can be verified (1930 is our first case) with nearly 800 cases currently registered, several hundred more awaiting input into the database, and more cases awaiting proper verification.
The “FATAL 10” coined by Dr. Olivia Johnson, came out of the data, and refers to the indicators or “themes” noted in a snapshot of the data collected from 2017-19. The themes were extracted from nearly 700 verified cases including active/sworn, retired, and former officers.
- Interpersonal Relationship Issues
- Substance Abuse & Addiction
- Cumulative Trauma & Stress
- Sleep Disturbance
- Mental Health Concerns
- Medical Issues
- Firearms Access
- Under Investigation
- Pending/Nearing Retirement
- Other Major Life Events/Situations
The Fatal 10 is a risk assessment tool that assists in identify risk factors and other behaviors that may contribute to negative outcomes (e.g., excessive use of force issues, complaints, failure to report for work, domestic violence, etc.). In addition, this tool will help predict and manage suicide risk factors, suicidal ideations, and attempts among first responder occupational groups. By identifying parallels within the data, there exists a potential to recognize early indicators of suicidal ideation and risk-taking behaviors before an attempt is made. The resulting outcome is an officer better able to address, process, and avoid many of the common pitfalls of the 10 Fatal that can manifest in suicidal ideation, suicide, or other negative outcomes. In turn, we will have healthier officers, agencies, and families.
Bank the Blue, a Chicago-based non-profit organization focused on providing education and psychological support to law enforcement throughout Illinois, is hosting a series of free, ILETSB-approved “The Fatal 10” training programs throughout 2023. The half day programs, personally presented by Dr. Olivia Johnson, are being hosted at various locations throughout Illinois. Participants have the option of attending a morning session [8am – noon central] or an afternoon session [1pm – 5pm central]. All programs are fully funded by Bank the Blue. There is no charge to participating officers or their agencies.
For a complete 2023 schedule and to register at no charge, visit: www.banktheblue.com/fatal-10
You can also contact Kelly Krauchun at Bank the Blue for more details: Cell: (708) 915-0498, email@example.com
About the Author: Dr. Olivia Johnson is the Founder of the Blue Wall Institute, Air Force veteran, former officer, researchers, and nationally recognized suicidology investigator with a focus on law enforcement suicide. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management form the University of Phoenix, School of Advanced Studies, and a master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org