Depression can be stealth, even for the most resilient officer, and can take a physical and mental toll on the mind and body if it goes unrecognized and untreated. Unfortunately, the silence within police culture discourages the acknowledgment of depression and mental illness. This silence cannot continue.
Every year, just as many officers active and retired die by their own hand as do officers killed in the line of duty. Yet, the silence within the profession continues.
The Number One Killer of Police Officers Active and Retired is Suicide.
This internal threat within the profession is real. Police culture is proud, and it takes courage to change and openly discuss officer suicide among blue warriors taught to be resilient and always prepared. The nature of law enforcement causes officers to internalize their emotions as they process all the human damage and carnage they witness and manage. Witnessing human suffering causes the first responder family to bond. This bond is a survival mechanism.
Common Signs of Police Officer Depression
Depression is a silent killer in law enforcement because it often slowly builds up, unnoticed, due to constant work-related fatigue and other stressors. In some cases, it is dismissed as just feeling down or under the weather.
Here is a list of common signs of depression:
- Withdrawing from other officers
- Feeling sad and hopeless for more than a few days
- Lack of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation
- Trouble concentrating
- Reckless drinking of alcohol
- Trouble making decisions
- Being restless, agitated, and irritable
- Weight gain or loss out of the norm
- Sleeping more than usual (sometimes all day)
- Trouble with memory (out of character)
- Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty (signs that last for more than a few days)
- Anger and rage over something trivial (out of character)
- Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
- Trouble functioning in your personal life (department discipline issues, divorce, recent loss of immediately family member)
- Openly talks about suicide
- Taking unnecessary risks
If you notice an officer displaying any of these signs for more than a few days, intervene and take the time to check in with them. If you say nothing and ignore the red flags, the outcome could be tragic.
Offering open communication and providing mental healthcare resources is a step in the right direction to help prevent an officer who is struggling managing stress and depression to not feel isolated. Silence can lead to a preventable tragedy.
Approximately 135 active and retired officers lost their battles with depression in North America in 2018.
Make 2019 the year you get involved and help save a life.
Dr. Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, federal, state, and local law enforcement. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a southwest community college.