Depression in police work is a silent killer. 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 die by their own hand as do officers killed in the line of duty. Yet, the silence continues.
At the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. we honor the men and women who have been killed in the line of duty protecting their communities. We do not honor these officers the way they lost their lives serving, but rather how they lived their lives protecting their communities.
Yet, no officer who has taken his or her own life because of duty-related mental illness/depression has his or her name engraved on the Wall of Heroes. These officers died because of mental health issues and depression brought on by their honorable service to their communities as peace officers. They are the forgotten! Their names are only whispered within their departments because of how they died. Being ignored often contributes to why they got sick in the first place and yet, the silence continues. We must have an open discussion about depression and officer suicide. A life might depend on our ability to openly talk about mental illness and depression.
It is Time to Acknowledge All Fallen Officers
The United States military lives by a code that they leave no man behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home. It is time to bring all fallen police officers’ home, regardless of the way they died. We need to focus on how they lived, a life of service and dedication to their communities.
Engrave their names on the wall among the other fallen police heroes and honor them by speaking their names and acknowledging that depression brought on by police-related work caused this illness that led to their death.
It is not about how any of the heroes died in their service to community, it is about how they lived.
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 cannot 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.
The number one killer of police officers is suicide caused by depression. Yet, the silence from within the police profession acknowledging officer depression is deafening.
The time for dialog and courage to recognize all our law enforcement heroes for their service, regardless of the manner of their death, is upon us. Honor these fallen officers by petitioning to have all fallen officers’ names engraved on the memorial in D.C. Leave no brother or sister behind, no matter the cost. Everyone comes home!
About the Author:
Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. 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 community college and has been teaching in the classroom and online for 20 years.