CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — September 4th-10th is Suicide Prevention Awareness Week. This week exists to shine a light on the ways people can help someone they know who may be struggling, and how to have authentic, caring conversations about suicide and mental health.
According to CDC data produced in 2020, women in protective services, which includes police officers, firefighters, and related jobs, had the fifth highest rate of suicide among occupational groups.
“An officer suicide is the last thing I ever want to hear. It saddens me to read in the paper how many officers take their own lives,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, “and I’m saying officers generically, as in, telecommunicators, corrections officers, firefighters, and law enforcement officers.”
Apple has been working on an app for employees in his department with resources, like connections to private counseling, so those who need help coping with the effects of the job can get the mental health support they need. The next phase of his plan to expand mental health support is to bring a psychologist onto the team.
“We have a large department, and there’s a lot of first responders in this area. We worked hard to get a lawyer on staff, and now I want to work as hard to get a psychologist on staff,” Apple said.
Retired Troy Police Captain John Cooney believes employee assistance programs (EAPs) and mental health first aid for public safety workers is crucial to preventing tragedies.
“What our job does is build cumulative stress, or critical incident stress that will lead to trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and or Major Depression comes with our job,” Cooney said.
He also pointed out the unfortunate stigma associated with mental illness in the profession. Some officers and first responders may feel it’s their job to keep the trauma hidden and tucked away so they can push through the next day, but experts say talking about suicide can be the thing that pushes someone to get help and improve their symptoms.
“What we need to do is take an event such as suicide and make it a topic of conversation, a topic of training, a topic at roll call,” Cooney explained, “we need to talk about it.”
Mental illness is treatable, and suicidal thoughts can go away or improve over time. There is help, and there is hope.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, although the previous 1-800-273-TALK number will continue to function indefinitely. 988 became the new dialing code back in July. Veterans can press 1 after dialing 988 for the Veterans Crisis Line. There are also multiple lifelines for specific groups, like LGBTQ+ youth. More information can be found on the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.