Police suicides, murder of family members and colleagues bother me as an officer. This article discusses possible contributory factors to the officer burnout, depression and suicide from an insider perspective with possible preventions and proper utilization of counselling and referral services. Suicide is a quick fix desire to end intense psychological suffering and pain. The most common reasons for suicide among officers are domestic and social issues, not work. Related to these are Love and relationships, Physical illness, Finances, Social Strains and Drug abuse issues leading to Stress. Like any other profession, police work has its own fair share of occupational stresses. Much cited as the primary factor, the government has commendably tried to address this by putting in place measures and structures focusing on officers’ wellness such as Comprehensive Medical Cover, Mental Health Care, Rehabilitation, Psychological Counselling Programs and Officers’ welfare such as introduction of Housing allowances.
However, I wish to focus on individual officer and their issues because it is the individual who commits suicide, it’s an individual who kills their family or colleague.
First, policing work requires a strong mind. This begins from the desire to join the service. It is not for the faint hearted. Most young people who join the service are always just attracted to the uniform but not the job; totally oblivious of what it entails. It requires calling, passion and selflessness hence, the recruitment qualifications and intense training programs which aims to strengthen you physically, emotionally and mentally. The first shock on an unprepared officer begins upon graduation and posting as what they thought was, is not. The job’s own significant challenges, coupled with the many stresses of life would weigh down even on the strongest person. The profession I dare say is among the best celebrated if passionate about. Problems are more individual based; the profession is just a catalyst to suicide if it finds you unstable.
I connect this pandemic more to social weakness. Police officers are always seen as united. This is a fallacy. The unity is professional, Just in discharging of their work. Outside work, it’s every officer for themselves in terms of personal issues in life. One goes through it alone. I imagine where you work, the kind of overwhelming support and well wishes from colleagues that would come through should anything befall one, unlike officers. When an officer loses their ability to cope in normal ways, they easily throw in the towel.
Public perception of the police has led to social isolation of officers even by family. Lack of community and family support compels officers to resort back. When an officer feels that the frustration is no longer tolerable and no coping alternative available, suicide becomes an attractive option. A sense of helplessness is a disturbing realization for anyone, especially for police officers who are conditioned to view themselves as superheroes capable of anything. Officers don’t have people to talk to or confide in thus left helpless. Traditionally, no matter their problems, they refrain from seeking help. They do not wish to appear weak or vulnerable before their peers. These are individuals who perceive themselves as problem solvers and often have great difficulty admitting that they have problems of their own.
To offer a solution, I suggest need for a stronger social support system especially family members and colleagues. My greatest support and strength in Service has been my foster mother. When I was at my lowest, in distress contemplating suicide, she reached out, got me up and I pulled through. She has been following up, keeping checks on me to ensure I am okay. She constantly makes assurances, telling me she knows that we go through a lot as officers and prays for us every day. She pleads with me always “My Son, whatever it is that would make you think of shooting yourself like I see on T.V some of your colleagues do, please don’t. You would rather pack up, come and sit here with me, I will feed and cloth you with your family.” Her parting shot would be “Remember always that I am just a phone call away.” This is the kind of family and social support system that I urge all family and friends of colleague officers to offer to their own.
If you are an officer who is in emotional distress, please reach out for help. There are many people who care about you, who really do want to help you and do not want to attend your funeral. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. This is the first step in regaining control of your life.
Always remember where there is life, there is Hope.
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