by Jimmy Baldea
The fact that more officers die at their own hands than at the hands of criminals has roused a nationwide call to action. Just a few years ago, open talk of this subject was almost considered taboo. There is a long road ahead of us in the journey to significantly reduce police suicide rates. The term “mental health” remains tainted and can dissuade those in need from seeking support. We must come together to aid officers who neglect to seek viable remedies to their mounting problems.
The contents herein will assist you in identifying officers who are “partly cloudy,” so relief can be administered before these officers turn into “thunderstorms” or worse. We have developed a shame-free infrastructure to make recommendations that actually work, part of which incorporates the following topics:
Family problems: It’s harder to do your job when your children are struggling in school, or when you face issues concerning the health of your children, siblings or parents. Support is available. Be encouraged to speak about your feelings, knowing that internalizing won’t make the problems go away.
Relationships: “Marriage trouble” causes deep wounds to yourself and others (including spouses, dependents and extended family). A lack of spousal intimacy magnifies these wounds. So does infidelity. Some people want to cheat but get depressed because they think they’re unattractive. Gaining clarity at work may improve your situation. Marriage and divorce can be tough, especially for first responders. Don’t grapple with these matters alone.
Financial issues: Money troubles have the potential to magnify an officer’s other problems exponentially. Please raise your hand if you receive collection calls, have an empty wallet, are living paycheck to paycheck or are maxed out on your credit cards. Are you worried about how to make it through the gift-giving season? If you find yourself tangled in a web, ask for help now, before such problems metastasize.
Holidays: Introduce a co-worker to your culture and traditions. Nobody should spend Thanksgiving alone. There is always room at your Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Ramadan dinner table for one more person. Everyone deserves a New Year’s greeting. There’s nothing wrong with going Dutch for a friendly outing on Valentine’s Day with a co-worker who would otherwise not celebrate the holiday. (Maybe you can play the “names in a fishbowl” game to draw a secret Valentine or holiday gift exchange partner at work.) Your invitation can save a life.
Pain: Drug interaction is not properly understood in the context of the daily food intake habits of police officers. Ingesting prescription medications, then consuming (even if at different times) alcohol, coffee, energy drinks, nicotine and/or other substances can cause negative side effects, all of which may lead officers to experience unintended consequences. On a similar note, failing to consume prescription medications as they are ordered and prescribed, while consuming some or all of the above, can also lead to an adverse impact on one’s body, emotions and mind. If you have harmful or violent thoughts or tendencies, take every step necessary to rule out a drug interaction as the cause. You cannot do this alone. Ask your doctors’ advice and seek wellness support.
Physical ailments: Cancer, cardiac conditions and diabetes are the roots of depression. So are hypertension and obesity. A lack of oxygenation, through asthma and sleep apnea, can also cause a decline in cognitive health. Prevention and rehabilitation programs exist to help officers reduce the likelihood of the onset of many medical conditions. Female epidemiology studies have also revealed a connection between elevated stress levels and pregnancy complications, perimenopause and/or dehydration. All officers should be encouraged to actively strive to improve their overall physical health, in order to reduce the likelihood of the onset or magnification of mental health conditions.
Politeness: Be cognizant of the harm that not receiving a “good morning,” “welcome home,” “good night” or “I love you” can cause. Cohabitants and co-workers can be instrumental in elevating the state of mind of an officer. Small pebbles can have big ripple effects.
Sleep: Some officers can’t breathe when they sleep, and wake up gasping for air. Others work shifts that are contrary to their natural internal clocks. Often, coffee and energy drinks are utilized as solutions, and so are sleeping pills. Doctors don’t prescribe Absolut or Jack Daniels to help their patients de-stress and sleep better, but some officers resort to such solutions and experience subsequent hangovers that further spiral them downward. Apnea can be eliminated through weight loss. Sleep onset can be brought about through proper diet and other practices. Pulse rates can be controlled through exercise. Try a 10-minute walk every day. It may raise the likelihood of improved sleep quality.
Workplace injuries: Very few civilians have the capacity to understand the pain that can be caused by uniforms and work equipment, let alone by the physical trauma that can result from performing the work. An officer who seeks sympathy, sadly, may never receive it from their loved ones. An officer may interpret a lack of understanding as a lack of love. This may lead to other difficulties, including prolonged healing from injuries at work. It is important to educate your families on such matters. Some officer groups have formed private family groups on social media sites to mitigate such issues. Speak up and speak out. Ask for an intervention. It is available.
Depression is gradual. It’s like cigarette smoke: It wears its victims down (mainstream) and impacts everyone else around them (sidestream, sometimes to a higher degree). It’s like a magnet: It attracts other dangerous risk factors. These factors have the potential to pile up and add excessive emotional weight to an officer who is on the fence. There’s no telling when just one more wrong external condition, event or factor could be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” It can be seen through the eyes of alienation, but not always. It can happen from the perception of a lack of appreciation. Let’s acknowledge PTSD and understand the impact of being the target of protests, but let’s also think outside the box by chasing the “causes of the causes” of mental health problems that can be experienced by police officers.
Addressing these suggestions may not bring police suicide statistics down to zero, but a unified nationwide effort may have the potential to make a significant impact. Far too many officers have taken their own lives, both recently and in the past. Have faith that, preceding suicide, these officers fulfilled their sworn duties until the very end. Prior to taking their own lives, it is permissible to believe that each of them would have given their lives in order to protect others. In the aftermath, let’s pay respect to them and their surviving loved ones by redefining these tragedies. Allow their ultimate actions to teach us to open our eyes and hearts. In a manner that does not glorify any suicide, we can reapportion the struggles of these fallen officers in a way that allows them to commit one last act of heroism. Let them teach us that officers should not be afraid to ask for help, nor should they be uncomfortable to offer it. Please stop, bow your head and offer a moment of silence for all the officers who have taken their own lives.
If you recognize that a co-worker is alienating themselves from others, take the initiative to intervene. It’s not snitching. If you knew or worked with an officer who took their own life, please make every effort to maintain a positive presence in the lives of their loved ones. Their survivors may find solace from your kindness, especially at birthdays, during holidays, in times of growing pains, around the anniversary of the suicide and throughout life’s many milestones. Time doesn’t always heal all wounds. Police officers stick together, in this life and the next.
Let’s band together to reduce the police suicide statistics. The best way to accomplish this is with your participation. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, as long as officers’ needs are tended to. Do your part to create stigma-free sanctuaries at your workplace. Make a list of helpful resources and post them in an easy-to-reach, conspicuous location. Happy holidays, and stay safe!
Jimmy Baldea became a first responder in 1993 and served as an EMT-B during the 9/11 tragedy. He developed diabetes, hypertension and obesity monitoring technologies for the New York College of Podiatric Medicine from 2000 through 2005. He founded the American Resources & Strategies technology and services firm in 2009, the American eHealth Collaborative in 2010 (which was incorporated in 2014) and the Wellness Institute for Public Safety 501(c)(3) in 2018. Jimmy is also the developer and administrator of the wellness program of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The American eHealth Collaborative and the Wellness Institute for Public Safety are involved in a campaign to provide police officers nationwide with the education and tools to help improve their overall states of health. To find out more about implementing police wellness and promoting positive mental health in your place of work, please contact Jimmy Baldea via call or text at (212) 300-5126, or email JB@AmericanEHealth.com. You can learn more about Jimmy’s work at www.lapd.com/members/jimmy-baldea.