Police Suicide - Suicidal Ideation 2

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By Saul Roth

This study found adults with stressful domestic difficulties, financial problems, legal circumstances, and serious health conditions or more likely than others to contemplate suicide. The victim usually experiences these problems over a long period of time, which can become overwhelming for the victim. The victim then experiences hopelessness because of these situations (Vilhjalmsson et al., 1998).

Alcohol abuse poses increased risk for suicidal ideation when the victim drinks three or more times per week. Socioeconomic status, however, is not a factor according to the study. To me, this finding contradicts the fact that victims with economic difficulties are likely to endure more stress. Furthermore, most suicidal ideation resulting from legal problems is of those that have been arrested and face jail sentences. As a police officer many I find that many crimes involve stealing, which again would negate the socioeconomic status not being a factor in suicidal ideation (Vilhjalmsson et al., 1998). The circumstances the victim experiences could lead him to the other conditions that increase risk for suicide, including drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and medical conditions exacerbated by increased stress. Mental health practitioners need to help the victims with self-esteem (Vilhjalmsson et al., 1998). Suicide prevention organizations should provide mental health referrals and economic assistance if required.

Most people with suicidal ideation do not actually commit suicide, meaning that there is room to intervene. This is when help can be instituted. The aforementioned studies were conducted outside the United States. However, a large-scale study (Crosby, Cheltenham, & Sacks, 1999) was completed in the U.S. whereby, among the 5,238 people surveyed by telephone, over 5% reported suicidal ideation and about .7 % reported having attempted suicide. In the U.S. general population, this would mean that 2.7 million people have experienced suicidal ideation, and about 700,000 have made an attempt. Among the people that attempted suicide, half had obtained mental health counseling, and about half did not. This study did not find gender differences among those experiencing suicidal ideation. Consistent with other research being single or unemployed posed increased risk. Moreover, poverty was also factor, suggesting that socioeconomic status does in fact play a role in suicidal ideation (Crosby et al., 1999).

In the Crosby et al. (1999) study, most of the respondents with suicidal ideation did not have a suicide plan. Of the ones that attempted suicide, three out of four were admitted to a hospital. I would have to believe the other 25% did not report their attempts to authorities or mental health professionals. The cost of hospital admissions for suicide attempts collectively amounts to $882,053,187. This is the cost for only attempts. I believe it would more than double if those with suicidal ideation were considered into the price tag.

A study compared a group of students to a group of police officers (Lennings, 1995). The students were younger than the police officers and the police officers were likely exposed to more negative events. With these circumstances, it was assumed that the police officers would have a higher rate of suicidal ideation. The students showed no difference in negative circumstances from the officers. I think the reason for this is the small sample size of police. Also, the study would have to review the type of police work the officers conducted and where it was conducted. In my 32 years as a police officer, I have had many negative experiences, but lately as a lieutenant I am usually confined to work in the precinct building. Therefore, I have fewer negative experiences. Moreover, this study took place in Queensland, Australia where there are probably fewer negative experiences for officers as compared to officers in high crime areas in the U.S. The study found that the officers, in fact, employed fewer coping skills than the students. This may be a function of the profession, as it would be expected that an older adult would have better coping skills than a younger student (Lennings, 1995).

It is important to recognize suicidal ideation in police officers. To do so will help get help get help for individual police officers and lower the overall rate of police suicides. As with suicidal ideation in the general public, age, marital status, and level of social support are factors predicting suicide.

Regarding mental health, depression is usually a factor as well as domestic difficulties and alcohol abuse. PTSD is factor found in the general public and is also a large factor for police who experience traumatic events including fatal accidents, crime, child abuse, homicide, suicide, and rape. The officer might relive the experience over and over again, be observed having hyper arousal, and experience negative reactions to events resembling the past incident. The officer might also avoid stimuli that would remind him/her of the incident Alcohol is often used by officers that are experiencing PTSD and is also a problem on its own (Violanti, 2004),

Violanti (2004) conducted a study on suicidal ideation with 115 officers, about 60% of who were male and the remaining 40% female. He found that 23% of the officers had reported suicidal ideation. Furthermore, 10-15% of the officers had been exposed to life-threatening or severe traumatic events. Violanti (2004) suggested that these were small numbers, however. I disagree with that statement, as almost a quarter of the officers reporting suicidal ideation is a large amount. I would further surmise that there were those that did not admit to this either. Police work is usually boring work, going from one call to another. Thus, having over 10% experiencing traumatic events is also a large number. The study noted that officers with a hardy personality were less likely to have suicidal ideation. Lennings (1995) found that officers had fewer coping skills than the students. However, forming a hardy personality is a coping skill that aided the older officers as a buffer against suicidal ideation after experiencing a traumatic event (Violanti, 2004).